It Looks Like Up to Me…

Dec. 12, 2008
The Process Industries Will Be Among the Least Affected of the Industrial Verticals by the Global Economic Meltdown
By Walt Boyes, Editor in chief

In the U.S.A., we’ve had an election, had the American Dream of owning a house and having enough to retire on shattered, and we’ve started on a recession that is global in scope.   We can hope that President Obama, his administration and the Congress will restrain the financial community from hurting the general welfare again. They’ll have to do some things differently, especially in the area of regulation. After all, the definition of insanity is to do the same things over and over, expecting a different result. Furthermore, the public—when it’s not scared out of its mind—is really, really angry. I don’t think we’ve quite come this close to folks gathering with torches, pitchforks and rope in many generations.

That said, for the process automation community, there is good news, fair news and some bad news. Let’s start with the bad news first, although depending on how you look at it, it may not be bad news at all. Many of those boomers we thought were going to retire, taking their institutional knowledge with them, may stick around.

Unless your company has a mandatory retirement age, you can count on your older, more experienced automation personnel a while longer. This will give you some more time to train their successors, and successfully capture their practical knowledge.

The fair news is that, for now anyway, the process industries will be among the least affected of the major industrial verticals by the global economic meltdown. Most process automation companies are saying quietly that they look good for several years yet in bookings and revenues, while most process industries are saying that they expect to weather the storm reasonably well.

Until it all goes to smash, and we sit outside the ruins selling rocks to each other, we have to proceed as though we’ll get through this. And get through it we will. Somehow.

Meanwhile, we have a bit of breathing room to fill the skills gap. Hard times will “encourage” youngsters to look at industries where jobs are still available. They will be forced to consider careers a bit more practical than “video game developer.”

ISA is doing excellent things with workforce development programs and with its contacts at the U.S. Department of Labor. IEEE is also doing excellent things for workforce development. FIRST Robotics and Tufts University are popularizing Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) curricula. Companies such as National Instruments, Autodesk, Honeywell, Emerson, Siemens, Rockwell Automation, ABB, Automation Direct, ATS and many more are becoming more and more involved in interesting young people in manufacturing and in automation jobs.

The one thing that isn’t happening yet is a coordinated effort. Everybody is working hard, but nobody seems to be working hard together.

We need to work hard together to make the current dearth of trained people in manufacturing and automation a thing of the past. We need a big summit meeting on the development of a global manufacturing and automation workforce—with everybody from associations to foundations to corporations in attendance.

Somebody has to get us all together and coordinate. Note I didn’t say “lead.” We have enough leaders already. What we need are people who are good at “working with.”

I strongly believe that ISA has the gravitas to do it. Incoming society President Jerry Cockrell, who is an educator, has the connections. I’d love to see a Global Conference on Manufacturing and Automation Workforce Development sponsored by ISA next year. I’d be happy to attend and put in my $0.02. Of course, by then I might need at least $0.22 to exceed the rate of inflation.