Pay It Forward

April 14, 2004
It's Time to Make a Concerted Effort to Attract New People Into Our Profession

It occurred to me as I was researching the careers of the three new inductees to the Process Automation Hall of Fame (see CONTROL, Feb. 04, p27) that there is a common thread that runs through all three biographies. For instance Tom Stout could have really retired after selling his successful company, but instead devoted the past 20 years to making the "PE" in Control Systems Engineering a reality. Ted Williams left industry to take on the challenge of educating two generations of engineers in control theory at Purdue, and though now retired, still comes in to the office most days. Similarly, Terry Blevins has spent countless hours working with the IEC and the Fieldbus Foundation, providing a sound basis for the future of digital communications in process automation.

Over the past few years, I think it's safe to say we've all been consumed with our own present-day problems and have not given much thought to the future. I won't go through the litany of lost jobs, closed plants, and outsourcing that we've covered in this magazine in depth. We all know why we've been so inwardly-focused on our own careers and our own personal futures.

I can complain until I am purple about the failure of business leadership in process automation. I can pontificate until nobody cares about the steps that should have been taken two decades ago to flatten organizations, empower workers and reduce the "job overhead" that stifles productivity. Or I can do something else.

There's a line from a wonderful old Disney movie "The Horse Masters," that I think fits here. The wise old horse trainer tells the youthful jumper, "Throw your heart over the fence, and the horse will follow!"

We've all spent the last 20 years in fear, complaining during the whole time that fewer and fewer young engineers are choosing to join our profession. Time's up. It is time for us to move forward. We need to look at how we will replace ourselves as process automation professionals, and how we can invite our replacements into our profession.

Personally, I helped to organize the mentor program at ISA, and have actively served as a mentor of younger engineers for years. I believe that it is an essential duty I have, to our profession and the automation industry. In fact, I believe that it is important to our economy, and to our country that we take responsibility for helping to mold and train the next generation of process control specialists.

As both end-user companies and automation product manufacturers move operations into a more global sphere of activity, it becomes incumbent on them to do the same thing. Ultimately, It will do a great amount to help raise the standard of living worldwide when companies realize the benefits of treating their associates in the rest of the world with the same care and concern they ought to treat the ones that happen to live in North America or Western Europe.

These new associates in our profession are our future, just as much as the young men and women of our own native lands are. Process automation is not a profession that most people know they want to do as teenagers. Very few kids ever stand up in class and say, "When I grow up, I want to be a control systems engineer." For years, process automation has been ho-hum and not at all cool. But we can, and we must, change that.

I call on us all, individually, and collectively through our companies and the professional organizations we belong to, to make a concerted effort to attract and invite into our profession the young people who will take charge of it and grow with it as we did when we were new to the ranks. What they do with it is up to them. What we leave them with is up to us.

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