Get 'em While They're Young

Nov. 6, 2007
We need to attract new star talent to the automation profession.
By Walt Boyes, Editor in Chief

The problem isn’t that companies don’t recruit from and support college level engineering schools. Many companies do. Companies donate equipment, even complete control systems, to engineering schools. They make available software at vastly reduced prices to schools and even individual students. ISA is also taking a stab at this, but its program also concentrates on the college student. Unfortunately, doing all this is too little, too late.

No, the problem is that too many students are opting out of the engineering profession altogether long before they attend college.

Only a few companies are trying to work at the level where we as a profession need it most: middle-school and high-school. That’s where students decide what not to be. They often do not decide what they want to do when they grow up until college or after, but they certainly know by the time they are entering high school what they don’t want to do when they grow up. And more and more, engineering is one of those occupations.

Famously, National Instruments, Honeywell, AutomationDirect and others have supported programs for educating younger children about the wonders of engineering, such as FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). It works, too.

A recent study by Brandeis University found that FIRST Robotics Competition students were more than three times as likely to major specifically in engineering; roughly 10 times more likely to have had an apprenticeship, internship or co-op job in their freshman year; significantly more likely to expect to achieve a post-graduate degree; and more than twice as likely to expect to pursue a career in science and technology. They’re nearly four times as likely to expect to pursue a career specifically in engineering. And they pay it forward too, being more than twice as likely to volunteer in their communities.

It’s easy to say that you don’t know where to start. But it isn’t true. This coming year, Executive Editor Jim Montague will be working in his school district on bringing engineering education to after-school programs, and he’ll be writing about his progress in this magazine.

Can one person make a difference? Maybe not.

But what would happen if every company involved with automation were to donate one person to the cause?
Suppose your company were to support one member of your staff working half-time or full-time as an organizer or mentor for a Lego League or FIRST robotics team?

Look at what has happened with United Way because many companies support it that way. United Way has burgeoned, and with that growth, the number of great not-for-profit programs it supports has also grown.
So here’s the challenge. Join Jim Montague in donating your time to working to improve engineering, science and mathematics programs in the grade schools and high schools where you live. Let’s get them while they’re young.