"I get the young kids who don't know anything, right out of school. I used to use the vendor reps as professors. Now they don't know anything either," said Brian Krameric, of Sargent and Lundy Engineers in Chicago, during a panel discussion at the recent Measurement, Control and Automation Association meeting. Speaking to a group composed primarily of senior officers of automation vendor companies, he went on, "Aren't you people training your folks?" The training gap exists because there is no replacement for the in-plant, one-on-one or brown bag mentoring and training vendors and in-plant specialists used to provide daily. We need a way to replace this resource, a 21st Century way.
Maurice Wilkins, of Millenium Chemical put it just as baldly. "We were forced by upper management to sit through a presentation by a major plant integration and simulation company. I and my two colleagues at Millenium knew more than they did about the topic, and we could have probably written better software."
The industry has vendors and associations that offer training. Some of it is pretty good, some of it is awful. While some vendors use training as product purchase "indoctrination" sessions, others actually provide good applications training for all comers. There are no standards for good quality training.
So what is the answer?
One answer is marketing, another is partnerships. For example, World Batch Forum (http://www.wbf.org) has over 10-years worth of specific applications and knowledge preserved in their archives. That's a whole lot of knowledge on batch processing, and the ISA88 Batch Processing Standard. Unfortunately, less than 150 people showed up to the group's symposium recently in
Associations and training firms need to offer industry-specific training, rather than product and software-specific training. It is actually easy to find out how a level transmitter works, by going to Google. It is not so easy to understand how it works in, say, a cosmetics plant or a refinery.
That's a big part of the gap. Associations like ISA and WBF don't market their training widely enough, and the majority of process automation professionals either don't know the kinds of training they can get, or they can't afford it, either in time away from their jobs, or money, or both. And most training courses I've seen are too generic to really plug the training gap. Lynn Craig, an Inductee of CONTROL's Process Automation Hall of Fame, was talking about a course syllabus that presented the training database of the WBF segmented by both industry and by student need. So, there might be "BatchPharma for Technicians," and the same information might be repackaged and repurposed for CIOs, or purchasing agents.
Vendors are making more sophisticated and more complex products and systems every day. They need to step up and provide real application education, not feature-function-benefit indoctrination to their customers. If vendors don't, then their customers may not buy the new stuff, and if they do buy, they might use it wrong. It is in the vendor community's best financial self interest to jump into the kind of training I'm advocating here with both feet, and lots of money.
Vendors, end-users and industry magazines like CONTROL need to form practical partnerships to market, advertise and deliver this kind of very personal mentoring and training. And we need to do it now, before irreplaceable knowledge and experience is lost for good.