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Automation Industry Suffers from Worker Shortage, Changes to Come Soon

Aug. 5, 2008
ISA Develops Program in Workforce Development. Others Should Follow

Believe, “Them As Can, Do”

You have reported many times in your magazine that the automation industry is confronting a serious problem already having profound effects on the quantity and quality of workers that enter and work in the field—a critical shortage of educated and trained workers at all levels from the technician to the engineer to the scientist. ISA, on behalf of the entire profession, is organizing to confront this problem head-on by developing a sweeping program in workforce development that we hope others will embrace. We intend to leverage existing programs, and develop new initiatives that will touch every aspect of an individual’s development from the early years (K-12) and college and university years to continuing education for workers already in the automation field.

We aspire to coordinate new and innovative programs for the so-called transition worker. This may include retraining existing professionals to enter into automation. Returning military personnel may also benefit from such a program. 

This is an effort focused across all vertical markets; we’re interested in addressing the entire profession. Talking amongst ourselves is necessary, but not sufficient. 

ISA, the Automation Federation, and its member organizations are taking the lead in creating a bright future for automation and all those professionals in it. This includes communicating a broad message outside of traditional circles.

This effort is larger than any individual society or sector can accomplish alone. The Congressional Fly-In was only one of the necessary parts of the overall workforce development strategy. It’s far easier to work with than against. What was accomplished in the Congressional Fly-In was to get the government to agree to work with us. State-level appointments are currently in the process of securing confirmations for the near future.

Your magazine already supports the above cause, and we look forward to reporting our efforts and plans to you in the near future! The experience we gain will be available to other parts of ISA across the world as Europe and many other areas are also encountering these same issues.

We look forward to your support and reporting of many opportunities and successes in building the automation workforce of the future.

Gerald W. Cockrell
ISA President-elect Secretary
Chair of the WFD Committee

Walt Boyes Responds

With all due respect, Dr. Cockrell, what you’re describing is ISA jumping in front of the parade. As you well know, for at least 15 years, there have been ongoing efforts by Tufts University and others to develop a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) curriculum for grammar school, middle school and high school students. This curriculum already exists. For ISA to say, as it recently has, that it is “taking the lead in developing a STEM curriculum” simply makes ISA look silly and out of touch. ISA doesn’t need to make itself look silly and out of touch.

When the FIRST Robotics folk, who have been supporting STEM at Tufts, can work with 44,000 students, as they have this year, and have over 14,000 students attend the finals in Atlanta earlier this year  I’d say that STEM curricula are well on their way. Note that first figure is nearly twice ISA’s total membership, and the second figure is bigger than the attendance at the ISA show in 2007. And FIRST is, as I have reported, not by any means the only program already choogling along out there.

It’s more than a little arrogant of ISA to say that it’s going to coordinate all this on behalf of the entire profession. ISA needs to come to the party as a worker bee and not try to be the big cheese. Might I suggest that you look around and see what is already being done, and offer to help to support FIRST and the other programs already well underway before you jump in and try to lead the parade? 

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