November/December 2010

Enriching the automation profession

By Bill Lydon

The Automation Federation (AF) is enhancing and enriching the automation profession by bringing a new level of professionalism to the industry, and this was further evident at ISA Automation Week 2010 in Houston, Tex., in October. There has been growing concern that the automation industry needs more people to enter the profession as many people are reaching retirement age and global demand is increasing. AF is starting to build programs to address these needs. This commitment includes activities to improve the automation profession and activities to attract and develop new talent for the industry. Attending a number of AF meetings at ISA Automation Week 2010, it was evident the people involved are enthusiastic and committed to meeting the needs of the automation profession.

AF is stepping forward as the "Voice of Automation" to directly impact and be the catalyst for the development of automation professionals. The intention is to create a "cradle to grave" approach by preparing current and future workers for automation careers at all skill levels and all career stages. This is accomplished through a range of activities including working with primary education (K-12), university relations, establishment of automation curriculum, technical training and education, certification, government relations, and industry relations.

AF has identified several topic areas vital to the manufacturing industry now and in the future including workforce development, cybersecurity, educational curriculum, and the smart grid.

FIRST Alliance

The AF commitment to the development of new talent for the industry was exemplified by arranging for Dean Kamen as keynote speaker to open ISA Automation Week 2010. Dean Kamen is a prolific and well-known inventor who has notable accomplishments including AutoSyringe mobile dialysis system, the first insulin pump, and the iBOT all-terrain electric wheelchair. Many people know his name because of the Segway, an electric, self-balancing human transporter, which is a byproduct of the iBOT. In addition to discussing technology, Kamen made the case for supporting another one of his passions, FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), which he founded in 1989 to inspire an appreciation of science and technology in young people. The goal is motivating young people to pursue opportunities in science, technology, and engineering by building self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills.

AF announced a global strategic alliance with FIRST and ISA to promote the importance of science, technology, engineering, and math education for students in Kindergarten through high school. Looking to the future, this is an important component for the automation industry to develop the next generation of automation professionals. The strategic alliance with FIRST will serve to enhance and accelerate efforts with a U.S.-based pilot program for K-12 students through increased after-school participation in FIRST robotics programs. This pilot program will provide resources and support to AF member organizations, including members of ISA, to encourage, build, and support FIRST events in their geographic areas. These volunteers will be matched to FIRST affiliates and operational partners and provided with resources to assist their volunteer efforts, including instructional materials, guidelines for starting robotics teams, and marketing support. In addition, these volunteers will be recognized for their volunteer efforts through an Earned Recognition program. This is a great opportunity for ISA members to contribute to the profession and society as volunteers for local FIRST groups.

The Automation Competency Model

AF and the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration developed the Automation Competency Model for attracting talent to the automation industry and as a resource for future workforce development efforts.

The model is a resource for curriculum development; employer efforts to recruit, retain, and train workers; identification of opportunities to upgrade the skills of dislocated workers; and identification of opportunities for veterans. The interactive model has nine building blocks and can be viewed on the Department Of Labor's website (www.careeronestop.org). A link to this site is also provided in the resource area of the AF's website (www.automationfederation.org). The model is designed to evolve along with changing skill requirements. AF has committed to working with its industry partners to keep the model current. The completed model is being circulated to business and industry sectors, along with business organizations, academia, international groups, and government agencies, domestic and international. The model contains occupational descriptions for positions, including automation technician, control software engineer, control systems engineer, enterprise integration engineer, automation network engineer, and automation sales-marketing professional. The model outlines necessary skills and can be pieced together as necessary to develop a job description. In this fashion, it is valid for all automation-related jobs from instruments to MES, and engineers to maintenance technicians.

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International

In addition to actions in North America, AF is working toward fostering the development of automation professionals worldwide. The European Union, India, and Australia are just a few international governments looking at adopting the Automation Competency Model. In addition, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) has joined AF as the association's newest member. The IET is one of the world's leading professional societies for the engineering and technology community, with more than 150,000 members in 47 countries and offices in Europe, North America, and Asia-Pacific.

Improving cybersecurity

The LOGIIC Consortium (Linking the Oil and Gas Industry to Improve Cybersecurity) has been formed under the auspices of AF as an ongoing collaboration of oil and natural gas companies and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology Directorate. LOGIIC was formed to facilitate cooperative research, development, testing, and evaluation procedures to improve cybersecurity in petroleum industry digital control systems. The program undertakes collaborative research and development projects to improve the level of cybersecurity in critical systems of interest to the oil and natural gas sector. The program objective is to promote the interests of the sector while maintaining impartiality, the independence of the participants, and vendor neutrality.

AF serves as the LOGIIC host organization and has entered into agreements with the LOGIIC member companies. Member companies contribute financially and technically, provide personnel who meet regularly to define projects of common interest, and provide staff to serve on the LOGIIC Executive Committee. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology Directorate has contracted with the scientific research organization SRI International to provide scientific and technical guidance as well as project management for LOGIIC.

As its first project, LOGIIC seeks to evaluate and improve the level of security of Safety Instrumented Systems as these are increasingly integrated with process control systems. These goals are to be achieved by an evaluation process conducted by subject matter experts working closely with system vendors. The results of this project will ultimately benefit not only the members of LOGIIC, but also the oil and gas industry as a whole.

Current members of LOGIIC include BP, Chevron, Shell, Total, and other large oil and gas companies that operate significant global energy infrastructure.

Veterans

AF is working with the U.S. Department of Labor Veterans Administration to match standard military occupational skills to the skills needed to become an automation professional. In addition, an initiative is being developed to define job search and mentoring opportunities for ISA sections to use to help their local veterans secure automation jobs. This is a win-win situation for the veterans and the industry.

In October, AF began discussions with the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) to expand efforts to encourage veterans to consider a career in an automation field. SOC was created in 1972 to provide educational opportunities to service members who, because they frequently moved from place to place, had trouble completing college degrees. SOC functions in co-operation with 15 higher education associations, the Department of Defense, and Active and Reserve Components of the military services to expand and improve voluntary postsecondary education opportunities for service members worldwide. SOC said it believes AF, through its Veterans Initiative, is providing another important outlet for veterans to pursue a career path in the automation profession. SOC and AF are planning additional activities to work together for the benefit of Veterans and industry.

High school initiative

AF and the Durham Public Schools in North Carolina are introducing an automation education curriculum in selected high schools for the 2011/2012 school year. AF volunteers along with Durham Public Schools administrators and teachers are building course curriculum. A draft curriculum is expected to be completed before the end of 2010. AF is also working with the U.S. Department of Education to implement this model in school districts around the U.S.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bill Lydon is the chief editor for InTech.  His e-mail is blydon@isa.org.