Automation and Process Control Specialists: Roll Your Own

How to Be Successful When Hiring New Automation Professionals

By Dan Hebert

Many companies are hiring technical graduates and training them to be automation and process control specialists. One way is through hiring interns. Lyngh of Endress+Hauser explains: "Our internship program is where we give real-world projects and challenges within our organization. When an intern is successful, we are very interested in continuing the relationship, and the students are even more interested in working for Endress+Hauser."

Bob Zeigenfuse of Avanceon agrees. "Our best success is hiring co-ops/interns and training them," he says. Crabb of Vertech adds, "We've made a decision to begin hiring and training our own automation professionals and programmers right out of school to meet long term staffing demands."

Major automation vendors concur. "Our best recruitment method is hiring college graduates and putting them in a 12- to 18-month apprenticeship program," says Jack Nehlig, president of Phoenix Contact in Phoenix. "It's just simply too hard and costly to hire experienced professionals since they are in such high demand."

"We recruit people with engineering, marketing or business degrees," notes Nehlig. "The apprentices do six-week rotations through various departments to get a feel for the entire company's operations. They receive regular training and mentorship." 

Not only do employers like training and apprenticeship programs, so do the employees. "The opportunity to learn, expand knowledge, network and grow in a well-established company is worth a lot to those that have no prior experience," comments Tom Yeager, an industrial sales engineer at Phoenix Contact, who went through the company's apprenticeship program. "Flexibility was also present as I learned the entire business within Phoenix Contact, and was then able to choose a specific direction that most interested me after the program was finalized."

Rockwell Automation has partnered with a college to turbocharge its training program. "While many of our customers would attest to difficulty in finding qualified process automation professionals, each would also tell you there is no shortage of workers that seek out training classes to gain the specialized skills their employer requires," says Ernie Helms, outreach coordinator at Polk State College (PSC) in Winter Haven, Fla. "At PSC, we've partnered with Rockwell Automation to offer discounted training offerings on the specific automation technology our customers have installed in their facilities."

In addition to the partnership with PSC, Rockwell Automation has its own program. "We've invested in more rigorous training efforts," says Rockwell's Paul Shane. "For example, new field service automation professionals—often recruited directly from one of the 14 universities with whom we have strong partnerships based on the institutions' dedication to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education—participate in a six-month intensive program known as Engineer in Training (EIT) immediately upon being hired. Each existing engineer is assigned an EIT graduate as their mentor to guide them through the program."

Michael Marlowe, managing director at the Automation Federation in Research Triangle Park, N.C., says the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) program seems to be working. "The Automation Federation supports the efforts of FIRST," he says. "We've established a partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges to encourage community colleges around the United States to develop two-year degree programs in automation fields. We also work with guidance and career counselors to promote the message about careers in automation, and we sponsor Automation Career Day events that introduce middle and high school students to careers in automation through interactive activities with companies in our industry."

ISA is also playing a strategic role to train automation professionals through products they offer such as training, CCST and CAP certifications, and publications, he notes.

Other companies are developing their own internal training. Brian Merriman of aeSolutions says, "We are developing aeUniversity to train our people. Its primary focus will be on higher-level training in process risk management and safety-related automation system design, implementation, and operation and maintenance knowledge and skill."

Endress+Hauser also invests heavily in training. "We pride ourselves in having world-class training and development programs," says E+H's Gillian Lyngh. "We have systems, processes, tools and resources for training our employees. We offer everything from our self-directed learning plans—all the way to company-wide online, classroom and lab training programs."