November 2008

Students hear opportunities knocking

By Jim Strothman

Nearly 100 young automation professionals (YAPs) attended YAPFEST at ISA EXPO in Houston last month. During the event, the under-30 mix of students and young technical professionals were eager to learn about new job and networking opportunities and technologies.

Thomas Collins, president of ISA's Student Section in Waco, Tex., thought YAPFEST was "great" because "it gives you insight into today's industry-what's really going on. The people in ISA make you feel welcome, opening doors and opportunities."

Jobs a concern

During a panel discussion with industry leaders from InTech magazine, Plant Engineering magazine, and AutomationDirect, concerned students said they were worried manufacturing moving out of the U.S. lessened their job opportunities.

Yet manufacturers are still demanding skilled professionals, said panelists Bob Vavra, editor of Plant Engineering magazine; Gregory Hale, editor of ISA's InTech magazine; and Chip McDaniel, director of technical marketing for AutomationDirect. Manufacturing executives said they can't find enough young qualified people, Vavra said. Hale said he talks regularly to executives who say their biggest challenge is how to find qualified engineers and technicians. McDaniel, whose company sponsors elementary and high school robotic competitions, agreed.

Students "can really make a difference in coming up with creative and innovative breakthrough solutions that benefit the institutions they're working for, whether it's academic or industry," said YAPFEST's special speaker, Monte King, manager of workforce development with Shell US.

The other way these young people can make a difference is by reaching out into the community to "bring the next generation workforce into this business of automation," King said. "Will they be involved with schools or youth activities? Will they get out and get the message out? They're in an ideal position to do so. Younger people look to the generation that's closest to them for their signals on their career choices and the areas to pursue. These students can play a key role in making a difference-not only their individual contributions in organizations, but being part of an outreach effort for the next generation. They can get the message out, get involved in their community, and do something bigger than themselves through volunteer and extracurricular activities."

Event key to networking

While Michael Prater from Lamar Institute of Technology (Lamar Tech), Beaumont, Tex, said everything was new to him, he still thought YAP opportunities at ISA "are pretty cool-a good opportunity for networking. ABB has some neat stuff," Prater said.

"It's great to find out what I'm going to school for," said Michael Crump, who is in his first semester at Lamar Tech. "Hurricane Ike stopped classes for two weeks, and this helps me try to see what I'm getting myself into."

Students also appreciated the job opportunities events such as YAPFEST open up. "I just joined my company six months ago," said Meghana Rao Modali of Dynergy Generators, O'Fallon, Ill. "I'm meeting people here [at ISA EXPO] who are very experienced, and I'm learning what's likely to happen in the future. I've gained a lot of knowledge. I'm very interested in the job market, and it's also nice just to learn a little about a lot of [technologies]."