Shrink-Proof Your Career

Oct. 12, 2009
Read This Article and Find Out Why Boyes Says That Automation Professionals Have Been Less Hurt by the Recession Than Other Professionals
This article was printed in CONTROL's October 2009 edition.
By Walt Boyes, Editor in chief

This is the first anniversary of the change of ISA's name to the International Society of Automation. A lot has changed since the announcement last year. We're going through the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. We've seen automation companies shrink across the board. We've seen end user companies in the automotive and consumer goods sectors shrink drastically. We've seen end-user companies in the process industries put projects on hold, cancel expansions, reduce staff and hunker down to try to survive.

Even though, as Honeywell's Norm Gilsdorf said in June, "the zombie is twitching," we can't assume that the economy won't produce a double-dip recession before all this is over. Stimulus programs all over the world are having an effect, but the end game is yet to be played.

In some sectors, automation professionals have been less hurt by the recession than others. This recession has been both industry-and place-sensitive, but no one can count on this continuing.

In "Dancing Backward in High Heels" (Control, September 2009), I wrote that we have broader responsibilities and need wider training, education and experience than most of our co-workers. Like Ginger Rogers, we need to do everything they can do, but backward and in high heels.

[pullquote]The world of industrial and process automation is changing rapidly. People are no longer able to specialize as instrument workers, or analyzer specialists. And what we thought we knew and what was available as solutions five years ago are dramatically different from what we need to know and what we can use today. Consider the advances in communications technology: Industrial Ethernet has become ubiquitous, with Foundation fieldbus, Profibus, HART and even the venerable Modbus special protocols over Ethernet. And then there's wireless, which, if the standards committees and foundations ever get out of their own way, will become a significant enabler.

While we are worrying about the declining value of our homes, and about when the next RIF (Reduction in Force) will come, and we are all juggling responsibilities we inherited from our co-workers who were RIFed, we also need to be worrying about maintaining our value as automation professionals.

And of course, the first thing that went was training budgets. So we're on our own. It costs around $1,000 to study for and take the Certified Automation Professional exam. It's somewhat less, but not much, for the Certified Control System Technician exam. If you have an engineering degree, and took the EIT (Engineer-in-Training or Fundamentals of Engineering) exam, it will cost about the same to go on and get a PE. You should get whatever certification you can. This is especially true when you consider that more than half of us aren't degreed engineers. And it is even more necessary in rough times when what we know is as important as who we know.

Yes, I know I'm advocating spending valuable time on evenings and weekends studying, and I'm advocating spending money none of us has on certification and training. But we need to face it. Operating companies are not going to be paying for us to be trained for a while, if ever. Neither are automation vendors.

You are in charge of your own career. I don't want to hear people telling me, as they did 10 years ago, "I worked here for 30 years…I don't know anything else." I don't want to see good automation professionals wind up as greeters at big box stores.
Keep learning, keep getting certified, and get all the training you can afford. It's the only way to keep your career going.