One of the biggest problems facing recruiters trying to hire new automation professionals is that few candidates know what process control is and what automation professionals in the field actually do. "Many engineering students are unaware of careers in the automation field," says PC Romano, president of system integrator Avid Solutions in Winston-Salem, N.C. "We need to do a better job educating them about their options in automation."
That's probably because process control isn't taught, says Greg Bodenhamer, vice president at Schneider Electric in Raleigh, N.C. "In most industries, process automation professionals are developed, not hired directly from a university, because process automation is not a curriculum in the majority of four-year schools."
For many firms, it comes down to "branding"—that is, making candidates aware of the profession. Systems integrators, who rarely do any nationwide branding, seem to have the biggest problem. Romano says, "A significant objective of our marketing initiative is brand awareness among current and future employment candidates."
Scoby agrees: "We meet with student organizations during the year. This provides opportunity to build name recognition with students, especially those local to our area."
But process control and automation need more than name recognition. "The job of making the profession more interesting is a branding issue that should be addressed through organizations like the ISA, Automation Federation, FIRST and the STEM education coalition," says Carty.
Michael Marlowe of the Automation Federation says, "We must promote the importance of STEM, and encourage our educational institutions to do more to promote STEM as the future for our young people as they begin their educational pathway. Countries should celebrate the importance of careers in automation and technology through programs such as FIRST."
Chris Hines, training manager at ProSoft Technology in Bakersfield, Calif., says to start early. "Offer more engineering courses at the high-school level," he advises. "So many high school students today have no idea what a PLC is. Engaging the younger generation in automation technology at an early age is vital."
Murphy at AutomationDirect agrees. "We have seen a wave of new programs aimed at getting younger kids interested in robotics, automation and engineering at an early age—and we believe programs like this will help increase the pool of qualified automation professionals in the future," she says. "Companies must also step up and demonstrate that automation can be a financially and a personally rewarding career."
And, of course, we can all help by cleaning up our act, says Shane. "In the long term, changing the perception of the manufacturing industry from one of grime and grease to the clean, cutting-edge, technology-based reality that it is today will make a huge difference in engaging prospective talent," he concludes.