ISA student sections develop future workforce

By Leo Staples

Joining ISA back in 1989, I quickly discovered what a wonderful advocate the Society is for student workforce development activities and opportunities. During the past several years, I have witnessed the development of student sections and have attended meetings and other Society events where volunteers present opportunities for students to engage with mentors and practitioners. The relationships built during this process often result in career opportunities for the students, as well as internships, scholarships, and speaking opportunities at the student section meetings.

Since those early days, I have also participated in the more recent work of the Automation Federation, which actively helps develop and manage the U.S. Department of Labor’s Automation Competency Model. Past InTech articles have featured much of this work, along with other workforce development activities, such as ISA student section programs where ISA section members serve on advisory boards to help shape the direction of the student events and school curriculum.

ISA student sections operate throughout the world, providing students with learning opportunities at all levels. However, since leaving the Society office, my support for our student sections has been limited to Oklahoma. Highlighted below are the two student sections in Oklahoma:   

  • Francis Tuttle Technology Center in Oklahoma City: The school offers both associate of applied science degrees and certificate programs in a wide range of automation fields. Instructor and student section advisor Matt Maynard is also the ISA district 8 vice president.  
  • Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Okla.: Although the school offers degrees at all levels for a wide variety of fields, members of the Oklahoma State ISA student section are typically engineering master and doctoral candidates. The section advisor is Russ Rhinehart, PhD, former editor in chief of ISA Transactions.

In addition to our student sections, ISA supports workforce development with other members of the Automation Federation. Examples include:

  • U.S. Department of Labor’s Automation Competency Model, the Cybersecurity Competency Model, and the Engineering Competency Model
  • Alliance with FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) to reach out to young people about careers in automation
  • Exhibiting at the U.S. Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C.
  • Efforts with Project Lead The Way to reach out to teachers and students in more than 6,000 elementary, middle, and high schools around the country to deliver targeted automation STEM messages

Although many professions have a single area of focus, automation professionals are the ultimate multiskilled workers. Increased integration of automation in all industry sectors and the retiring baby boomers continue to fuel demand for automation professionals. ISA student sections represent a collaborative effort between colleges and universities, career technology centers, and companies to develop future professionals. Despite major strides, there is still work to be done, and that is where you come in. You can find a student section in your area at In a future article, I will share more details about the two Oklahoma student sections and their workforce development efforts.

About the Author

Leo Staples is senior manager, utility operational compliance, at OGE Energy Corp. He is an ISA Fellow and was ISA president in 2011.

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