Get 'em while they're young!
Folks - I don't always agree with Walt Boyes, but I think he is on to something fundamental when it comes to the whole technical recruitment issue. He recently said the following: "The problem isn't that companies don't recruit from and support college level engineering schools. Many companies do. Companies donate equipment, even complete control systems, to engineering schools. They make available software at vastly reduced prices to schools and even individual students. ISA is also taking a stab at this, but its program also concentrates on the college student. Unfortunately, doing all this is too little, too late." Let me make it clear that I do not believe recruiting at the college level is wrong. The effort at the college and University level is needed and probably needs to be expanded. Few Colleges and Universities even have the ability to produce Bachelor level Engineers who know much of anything about control. I do agree strongly with Walt, though, that the course most college students follow is very often set before they get to college. Almost nothing is happening at the high school (or earlier) level that can influence a young potential engineer to consider an engineering curriculum. A year into a college program and it is essentially too late. Many years ago there was an active engineering effort tied to "Engineering Week" or something like that. Practicing engineers were recruited to talk to high school classes. I enjoyed those opportunities and have had people tell me many years later that my talk had something to do with their decision to pursue a technical career. We have, in the AF, the potential for programs and the people who could make a difference but we are also all struggling for funding. It is hard to justify spending anything on a program to influence young people to our profession when we are scrabbling to squeeze the last drop out of each nickel right now today. It would help a enormously if there were some sort of funding specifically focused on recruiting potential engineers (instrument, control and automation engineers in our case). It is a national issue. Could that - should that - become one of the thrusts of the Automation Federation workforce development initiative? If AF can get that funding, WBF can spend some of it very efficiently and effectively.
I shared part of that with Keith Nosbusch, and pretty soon he was bouncing up and down in his chair, and I was bouncing up and down in my chair, and we were enjoying the pleasure of a shared passion. Nosbusch too, and thereby Rockwell Automation, shares my intense passion for getting more young people involved in manufacturing and in the automation industry.
And Rockwell Automation, financially, and through the volunteerism of its staff members, high and low, supports this strongly through its involvement in STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and the FIRST Robotics program.
Rockwell supports this so much that they've dedicated a very large part of the show floor at Automation Fair (and not way off in a back corner where nobody would go there, either) to the FIRST Robotics program.
Yesterday afternoon, I accompanied Nosbusch to the FIRST Robotics booth, where he met, chatted with, and did photo opps with the young people who were demonstrating the robots they'd built for their award-winning team. We met Julia Loeb, an "education intervention specialist" from Cleveland, who has been retired for the past two years from her teaching career, but who volunteers to lead and mentor a FIRST Robotics team anyway. We met Susan Lawrence, the regional director of FIRST Robotics, who walked us through how the program works. And we met Dr. Dennis Roberson, vice provost of new initiatives and research professor of computer science at Illinois Institute Of Technology, who is on the FIRST Robotics Board of Directors.
But what was especially interesting was a shy and self-effacing young woman with a RA Employee name tag on, Katie Hall, who was quietly helping to make the booth run, helping the FIRST Robotics team members work on their robots, and helping the rest of the Rockwell staff prepare for the Boss' visit. She was pointed out to me as a graduate of the FIRST Robotics program who now is a RA Employee. She works in the Quality Lab in one of the RA plants. We'll be interviewing her at length for an article next year, because she embodies everything Keith Nosbusch and I and the others like us are trying to do. I asked her if she liked working in manufacturing, especially as a young person, and her eyes lit up and sparkled. "Yes!" she exclaimed.