Building the Next Generation of Automation Professionals: Perspectives from One Long-Time Professional
By Peter G. Martin
I am an “accidental” automation professional. I never set out to have a career in automation but have invested the last thirty five years working to positively impact industry through automation. I can honestly say that my career in automation has been challenging, interesting and impactful. Although most students today are not considering a career in industrial automation, I believe the time is perfect to consider automation as a positive career choice.
I have found many students indicate that they are looking for careers that make a positive difference. Automation provides such a career because it can positively impacts today’s most daunting challenges. Consider what the world needs to thrive, such as:
- Clean water
- Material goods
- A sustainable environment.
The effective application of automation technology has a positive impact on each of these critical needs.
The phrase, “don’t try to solve world hunger” has been used to dissuade people from undertaking a task that is too big. Interestingly, the effective application of automation technology may actually provide the basis for solving world hunger. Automation underpins and improves manufacturing and production. The production of safe food requires water, fertilizers, processing and packaging so the food can be shipped to the areas of most critical need. There is an abundance of water in the world, but most of it is salty or dirty. Converting these sources into clean, drinkable water requires manufacturing and production. More effective manufacturing and production is absolutely necessary to address these critical challenges.
Historical Perspective of Automation as a Career Choice
When I was entering the workforce in the 1970s, a career in manufacturing was considered both honorable and desirable. Over the last three decades in the United States, the desirability of a career in industry has dropped off considerably. Manufacturing seems to have become viewed as a “necessary evil” to be done by others. One of the results of this perspective is that much of the manufacturing of the United States has moved offshore. This has had a serious negative impact on the economy and job market in the United States.
To a large degree the strength of the United States within the world community was founded on manufacturing excellence. In recent decades there has been a push to transition the economy of the United States from a production base to a service base. Although the addition of service based jobs should certainly be welcomed, history has demonstrated that economies with strong industrial bases are more sustainable. The United States must rebuild and expand its industrial base to remain a world leader. But this must be done in a responsible and environmentally sustainable manner. This is why the effective application of automation technology is essential.
Why Consider Career In Automation Technology Now?
Automation technology has improved at a similar pace to all high technology fields. Today, industrial automation is one of the most technologically advanced fields, rivaling aerospace, transportation, and information technology. Applying state-of-the-art technology to the challenges facing manufacturing provides the only feasible way to improve the profitability, safety and environmental integrity of industrial operations, enabling manufacturers and producers to meet the critical challenges facing mankind. But technology is not enough. Also required is the talent necessary to realize the potential of this technology.
Students avoid choosing industry because their image of industrial careers may be dated. Many textbooks address industry from the perspective of the industrial revolution in which laborers were exploited and working conditions were very harsh. But today’s industrial environments are very different from what they had been. The emerging industrial environments are among the most advanced in the world. But in industry, advanced technology is not just for entertainment value; it truly improves human conditions.
The recent compression of the job market in the United States has received considerable attention. The migration of industrial operations away from the United States and the utilization of automation technologies to replace labor have certainly contributed to this compression. Both of these factors are reversing today. As labor rates throughout the world have increased, the economic viability of manufacturing in the United States has likewise increased. The application of automation technology has further improved the economics of industrial operations to the point at which United States industry can compete globally. Many industrial professionals are preparing to retire. This will open many key jobs in the industrial markets. These factors improve the job outlook in industry in the U.S.
The Role of Career Development Professionals
NCDA has partnered with The Automation Federation, an organization that charted to forward the automation profession. The Automation Federation is providing an excellent framework for advancing the profession, including securing future talent. Career development professionals working with high school students can be at the forefront of this effort by providing information about the positive impact of this profession. While encouraging students to explore career options in the field of industrial automation, career development professionals may highlight the salient aspects of the field:
- It is technology-driven
- Positive work environments have replaced older stereotypes
- Automation makes a difference in the world.
A career in industrial automation should be considered by today’s students. Referring students to The Automation Federation and the International Society for Automation may be a great first step.
Resources For Counselors/Students
The following represents additional resources for further exploration:
Hale, Gregory & Martin, Peter G. (2010). Automation Made Easy, North Carolina: International Society of Automation.
Peter G. Martin, Ph.D.,is the Vice President and Fellow at Invensys, Operations Management. Dr. Martin has worked in industrial automation for almost 40 years. He has written numerous articles, authored or coauthored five books and developed multiple patents. Dr. Martin was named one of the 50 most influential innovators of all time by Intech, and received the Life Achievement Award by the Instrument, Systems and Automation Society. He was elected to the Process Automation Hall of Fame, received the Invensys President’s Award, and was selected as a Fellow of The International Society of Automation.He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org