Speak Up and Speak Out!

ISA reaches a milestone in Washington D.C.

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By Walt Boyes, editor in chief

Steve Huffman, President of ISA, and several other ISA staff and volunteers recently achieved a real milestone. They spent two days in Washington, D.C., explaining to members of Congress and other top bureaucrats just exactly what it is we automation professionals do.

It took a long time and some hard work from people like Tom Stout to get here. For years, Tom was the self-appointed one- man lobby for control system engineers, and Tom and I worked hard to get ISA’s bylaws changed to allow Steve to do this. We’ve missed opportunity after opportunity to raise the profile of automation professionals, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anymore.

ISA is finally taking steps to be what it should have been all along: the voice for the profession. And since it is also my mission—and that of everybody at this magazine—to be a voice for automation professionals, I welcome the addition to the choir.

“If workforce development as we intend it for the automation profession is going to succeed, our lawmakers have to know who we are, what automation does for the bottom line in industry, how many professional and skilled jobs automation creates, and most importantly, what our plans are to replace we baby-boomers who got here by accident and evolved with the technology,” Steve Huffman said. He’s right.

But ISA can’t do it alone, and neither can I. If you consider yourself an automation professional, it’s time to step up and say so. Whether you are a technician, an engineer, an operator or a manager, or whether you work for a process industry company or an automation vendor, you need to stand up and let people know what we do, and why it is important.

I, along with Peter Martin of Invensys and others, have been talking about outreach for years. There are several parts to this: workforce development, workplace action and outreach outside the profession.

ISA can lobby Congress, but here’s the bottom line: If you want to have your job and keep it; if you want to be recognized for what you do for your company; if you want your company to continue to grow and prosper, your CEO, CFO, COO and CIO all have to know, in detail, what you do and why it matters to them and to the profitability of the company. The shareholders, as represented by the Wall Street analysts, also need to know what you do and why it matters. So do politicians and regulators, or they’ll tell you how to do your jobs.

We aren’t used to talking like that. Most of us aren’t used to talking to the bosses. We aren’t used to dealing with stuff that isn’t technical. Frankly, folks, that’s tough beans.

In the U.S., it’s becoming clear that process control systems, control system safety and control system security are considered as reportable issues under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. If we aren’t proactive about telling people outside our profession what’s going on, we may be blamed when something goes wrong.

We need to explain to people how we do this and why it is important. You, personally, need to take the time to make sure that everybody you associate with knows what you do and why. Blank stares from friends, and from your boss’s boss, when you say “I work in process automation,” aren’t going to help your career. So speak up.

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