Reaching the young crowd

It’s time the industry develops new content and new ways of delivering it to young automation professionals, the ones who are so hard to find, and who are so leery of joining professional organizations.

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Walt BoyesBy Walt Boyes, Editor in Chief

Traditional tradeshows are dying left, right and center. Younger people who enter the automation profession don’t want to go to meetings or attend conferences, and would rather have a root canal without benefit of anesthetic than attend a tradeshow.

So what are a poor profession and the industries we work in to do?

Look at WBF, for example. WBF (formerly World Batch Forum) is the repository of knowledge of the two most successful ISA standards (the ones that moved out of the control system ghetto and into the real world of manufacturing), S88 and S95. Yet WBF practically has to beg end users to attend its conference every year.

Look at OMAC, MESA and other independent user groups. They all have the same problem: I think their information is worth real money, but nobody wants to pay for it by showing up. The Web has taught users to get high-quality information in flexible formats for free. How does ISA or anybody else counteract that?

I attended at least one supplier-sponsored user group meeting a month for the last eight months of last year. Suppliers surely don’t want competition from the independent user forums. They have their captive audiences, and they’re growing every year, because that’s where the information is.

The vendors can get people to pay for user conferences because that’s the way their customers get ROI on their purchases.

I said in an editorial last year that if ISA wants to take back the high ground for user conferences that it lost when it cancelled the Tech/Expo format in the late 1990s, it was going to have to spend the kind of money that Honeywell, Emerson, Yokogawa, ABB, Invensys, et al, do on their events. But that’s only part of the equation. The other task ISA has before it is to provide high-quality, vendor-neutral information in all the ways end users want to receive it.

If maybe that sounds a little familiar, it should. It is taken from this magazine’s mission statement. We’re doing it on a daily basis. You’ll see some very interesting new things in 2007 from the CONTROL brand—both in the magazine and website.

ISA would do well to get rid of the ISA Show while it still can be sold off, so it can concentrate on doing what the end users need and want. Sell the show, license the name and use the receipts to develop new content and new ways of delivering it to the YAPs—those Young Automation Professionals ISA held a big party for at last October’s show, the ones who are so hard to find in our profession, and who are so leery of joining professional organizations when they are found. If we don’t do that—all of us, not just ISA— we might as well get ready to turn out the lights when the last of us retires—and that isn’t all that far off, my friends.

ISA has made literally decades of progress in the year that Ken Baker served as president, and will continue to do so under new President Steve Huffman, but that momentum must continue.

When all is said and done, it might be that the “Automation Federation” that ISA set up last year will turn out to be the best idea ISA has ever had. And it just might be the successor to the Instrument Society of America after all.

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