Yes, There is an EXPENSIVE Large Skills Gap in Industrial IT in the U.S., Europe and the World

Hello All, Just got back from teaching in S. Korea the MESA Global Education Program's MES/MOM Methodology Program. This class had 22 YOUNG engineers in the class. Most were between 28 and 32. Most were end users and system integrators. All were seriously studying the MOM standards (ISA-88/95/99/100, SCOR, OAGIS, OPC) to understand how to architect scalable industrial IT architectures. All were applying the best practices in Korea and China plants to create more jobs for their countries by building the next-generation plants. This is a premeditated, pragmatic approach and business model. This approach is completely missing in the United States and most of Europe. I have taught this program for last 16 months around the world. Outside of the U. S. and Canada, I fill up the classes and am regarded as a subject-matter expert. My books and papers are well-known and used.- In dramatic contrast, the MESA GEP events in North America are postponed or canceled half the time, and when they do go, it is with a minimum break-even number. Most who attend in U.S. are over 40 and interested in finding a better way to correct their past mistakes. I am not training the next generation to build next-generation plants in the United States.  ISA posted a survey last year that said that 70% of the automation engineers in North America and Europe will retire in the next five years. Most of the end-user companies that I deal with are outsourcing their automation to Indian firms, who are putting young engineers in American and Europe plants. From my observations and conversations with operations people, this is not working out  The leaders of the end users are not investing in their future knowledge workers, while bringing under-mentored young engineers into their business who are than making expensive mistakes in plant applications--mistakes that were made 20 years ago by most experienced manufacturing systems engineers. I have often explained that MES/MOM applications require four projects and five years of mentoring to understand how not to make the multi-million dollar mistake again and again. So where is there is an hourly cost saving in outsourced resources? There is a much higher cost to not developing internal knowledge of production processes and operations work processes.

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  • Ok let’s make a clear split in functions here. IIT = ICT Administrators,  PCN Engineers = Process control Engineers. I work for Honeywell in the Netherlands for the IITS group and for Wireless TAC and Honeywell has been using domain, ISA95/99 network architectures for many years now. I came from the ICT Banking world into process control IIT and I have been asked this question several times as everyone is suffering from this.

    Firstly the Western world PCN systems are old and mature and China and Korea are new young markets who need the latest designes and technologies so they are built up around that. Just look at the 4G networks.

    As America has destroyed their education system down to a situation that people are picked for high school with lotteries people you need to go into these educated jobs is limited.

    In Europe the main focus for education is towards program applications and with every company requiring newly trained people younger people are not interested in working with legacy equipment


    PCN/DCS
    Ok PCN Engineers are no way qualified to be real hard core IIT specialists. The PCN service engineer only needs to know a bit about networking and windows infrastructures as their main role is to make sure the process control runs and is up 99.999999999% of the time.  The reason we are not getting new people in to replace the process control engineers is that all the old legacy items like TDC 2000/ TDC3000 Highway is steady and will last forever and it works. All old engineers are trained with this and it just runs. There is no technology out there that interest the new generation. No 16 – 18 year old wants to learn about archaic technology that has absolutely no use in the outside world. They way the youth (including me Im 42years old) see it is if the jobs dry up in the process control world what security have you got? None.. at least with a technology which is new and changing constantly they can keep up to date and they are worth something.
    Once the kids realise how much money they can make in this world they will move across and then there will be an overflow of engineers.
    As most process control systems are sold with an average life expectance of around 20 years there is not so much turn over so when all the large plants get upgraded the job requirement will be reduced. Smaller jobs will be done by in house engineers and specialist companies.

    IIT
    So now IIT is a very specialised part of the IIT infrastructure and the fastest growing side of the market at the moment.
    IITS covers. Cyber security, Networking, Wireless connectivity, Domains, Work groups, Vulnerability, Remote connectivity, SAN’s, Blade infrastructures, Virtual technology, Terminal server connectivity.
    If you think that IIT infrastructures are the same as standard IT infrastructures and hire people in from these areas and expect them to do the work directly then you will fail.
    IITcovers everything a business IT infrastructure but its years behind the latest technologies, IIT requires 0% downtime, and 100% redundancy.  This concept is lost on standard IT engineers who are either specialised in one or two of the specialities I named above. It companies don’t want Jack of all trades, if you are a jack of all trades then you are most likely a 50 year old IT administrator who has had at least a burn out or two.
    Trying to tell a new engineer that they are limited with IOS’s OS versions and applications, and that they need to work with systems they can’t touch without a very detailed work permit and change orders, Topped by telling the Engineer that they will not be working with the latest technologies. Most of the engineers I know will back out of the job.  After explaining to them if they make a bad decision it’s not a situation that the customers may have no connection for a few hours it’s a situation where a total plant shut down may occur and it may take the company days if not weeks to get back up to full production while losing millions of dollars a day.

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  • Charlie,

    Interesting insights based on your experience around the globe.  My observation, while it may be limited, is that the money that is being spent (much of it by US and European based companies) in the emerging regions of the world is driving innovation (and interest) in those regions.  Many manufacturing companies in the US are in maintenance mode; i.e. just keep the place running.  This mindset is not going to create innovation nor will it attract young engineers.  Using Asia-Pac as an example, so many big green-field factories with big budgets is fueling innovation and attracting young readily available engineers.  An interesting observation on my part is that innovation in the emerging economies is starting to migrate back to the US.  Much like the US imported technology that it had developed in the last century, now the US has the opportunity to import new technology, much like "lean" operational strategies were refined in Japan and imported to the US in the last decade.  This offends our US pride, but the willingness to take advantage of this trend may separate the companies in the US ( & Europe) who strive going forward vs. cratering.

    Rodney Neal

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  • I see the same thing when I travel to Asia-PAC.  I was just in India in January.  Hundreds and thousands of driven and passionate engineers who are devouring any info to position them for a better future and better approaches.

    There are pockets of similar dynamics here in the US but on the average, we continue into a downward spiral.  Also a part of this dynamic is that fact that the US approach is more like a "lone wolf" or a firefighter.  Europe has been much more process and standards oriented and now it looks like Asia-Pac has a similar approach.  This firefighter mentally which is really a patch-them-up short-term focus as opposed to a strategic focus is not serving us well here in the US.

    Interesting thing is right now standards are still being driven out of NA and Europe which is a great advantage to us.  But if things continue down this path soon we’ll see a swing toward Asia-PAC where they are driving standards as well because that is where the money is being spent right now and money welds power and influence.

    Your reference to under-mentored cheap engineers here in the US I think is spot on.  The only caution is that just because this is the way that we’re using Indian talent, do not fall victim to the stereotype that all Indian talent gets similar results.  My observation is that Indian talent working in other regions is providing quality output with high value.  When we invite them into our poor work practices, we set them up for failure.

    Thanks,

    Rodney

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  • Thanks for the exchange.  I very much agree that there is a lot of good Indian and non-US/EURO talent now.  And in the Future, the young un-mentored will have made the necessary learning mistakes to turn them into a large pool of good engineers.  A couple of things.  First, the good outsourced talent does not stay with the large Indian firm for long since there is a skills gap in the Global market and Indian and Chinese salaries are going up fast; Second; engineering is an empirical knowledge which comes through trial and error with Americans and European not getting the cycle to build their pools; And third, there has been and is a huge loss of lesson-learned from the current experienced generation of engineers where the same mistakes that I made in the 80’s are now being made fresh again. So companies who are out-sourcing are not understanding that there policies are costing cutting short term and highly destructive mid and long term.

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  • I saw the trail and the original article and feel that things are being generalized without data and clear understanding. The experience of 80s and 90s has been brought to India, China and Korea with people moving back to their countries.  I know THE semicondductor MES expert from ex-Brooks/Fastech guys has left Applied and went to Korea.  I am not as big an expert as the ex-Brooks person am refering (he is my Guru), but I got back to India and have steered MES in 9 Automotive facilities in India and China, "nano" being the 1st one.  I know same example in Life Sciences.  One experienced person can infect 100 new person and that is exactly what is happening and in addiiton the latest technology is also tried and applied (after calculating risks) and hence the application makes a leap.  The US companies have built products that incorporate the "Best Practices" and Experience and that is a concious choice made by the US org considering the price pressures.  But the Indian and Chines org are emerging as application experts utilizing these products effectively.  And now after 5 years, related to Automotive industry, we are taking back things done in India to US, Europe and even to Japan as application modules/templates.  Though, I would say the globe has become ONE and we must not be talking in terms of countries.  The applications are more done in India and China because manufacturing investments moved to these countries and application requirements are better understood more by working closely with customers.  The platforms are built in the US cos of the culture and investment capability and the access to such knowledge.  Software products have become easier to work with (BPM etc).  If manufacturing investment moves up again in the US despite the services cost, then implementation "best practices" will develop again amongst the people there and may be done by pulling ONE experienced expert from India or China

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