We are in demand. We are scarce, Walt Boyes, Control magazine editor-in-chief, said in his keynote address to the Process Solutions User Group at Rockwell Automations Automation Fair this week in Chicago. And we now have the tools to prove that we are not only necessary, but irreplaceable.
Boyes walked his audience through the changes, professional, social and political, that automation professionals have been through in the past twenty years, and then predicted what they will face in the coming decades.
In October, he reported, a large majority of the ISA Council of Society Delegates voted to rename the society the International Society for Automation, but not with the required supermajority, by less than one percent. The measure failed. Nothing could better illustrate the pains of a changing profession.
We have a larger, deeper skill set that we need to learn than any other discipline. Control magazines Walt Boyes discussed the need for process automation professionals to demonstrate the benefits they bring to their organizations.
Manufacturing hasnt been a classy or hip place to work, Boyes pointed out, since the layoffs and downsizings began in the 1980s. Yet every bit of productivity gained in the past twenty years is due to the benefits of automation and enterprise integration. Yet the people who gained that productivity increase are older and getting ready to retire, without clear and well trained successors.
But since training and mentoring and apprenticeships cost money, and the process industries are very cost conscious still, Boyes pointed out, the first thing theyve done is to turn to their automation vendors for help. And the automation vendors, having heard the sirens call to move from being equipment companies to being service providers, are answering the industrys call with staffing services, operating and maintenance services, and design expertisesome of the people laid off by the process industries found new homes in the vendor community, and took their expertise there.
Vendors are very clear that it is better to have somebody pay them once a month for doing stuff than to have somebody pay them once in a while for a new piece of equipment and since many process plants dont even have engineering talent, vendor companies are requested to do the design engineering and even the integration for them.
The problem, of course, Boyes continued, is that the vendor companies are having the same staffing problems that the process industries themselves are.
What to do about this? Imagine what would happen if all of us walked off our jobs for 60 days but we dont have to do that. What we must do is to stop thinking like instrument engineers, like control systems people, and start thinking like real automation professionals.
We have a larger, deeper skill set that we need to learn than any other discipline, Boyes concluded. It isnt enough to be an engineer in fact, many automation professionals arent engineers. We must be able to engineer, to plan, to manage projects, to understand both financial analysis and have experience with many kinds of processes in many different industries. In a way, were like Ginger Rogers. She could do everything Fred Astaire could doand she did it backwards, and in high heels. So lets dance!