Another Good Idea -- Maybe

Jan. 30, 2008
Okay. I'll admit it. I was vain enough to be flattered that somebody from ISA actually thought my idea about using simulation games to interest the young-uns in process automation was a good idea. Thanks. That success tempts me to roll out another idea that's been rattling around in my head for some time.  It's a riff on an idea I floated in this video clip, "Selling the Cool." This one came to me one weekend while I was wast...
Okay. I'll admit it. I was vain enough to be flattered that somebody from ISA actually thought my idea about using simulation games to interest the young-uns in process automation was a good idea. Thanks. That success tempts me to roll out another idea that's been rattling around in my head for some time.  It's a riff on an idea I floated in this video clip, "Selling the Cool." This one came to me one weekend while I was wasting time watching the contest shows on t.v., the ones where professionals or wannabes in certain industries, such as fashion or cooking, compete to become the "top" model or chef. This sad commentary on my private life aside, I wonder if we shouldn't be doing the same thing for process automation. Now after you've picked yourself up from rolling on the floor laughing, think about it. Picture a show with 10 or 12 young engineers, say juniors or seniors in college or recent graduates, who are presented with a series of engineering challenges, each one getting progressively more difficult. Sometimes they have to work in teams, sometimes alone. They not only have to do the engineering, they have to deal with the business challenges, the budget constraints, the unwilling, unconvinced colleagues. They travel to various process plants around the globe. Pick "cool" industries, say a biofuel producer, a brewery, a pharmaceutical company, a candy maker--places the young audience would find exciting or at least interesting, and preferably in "exotic" locations. (One of the things we don't tell young people often enough is that a good process automation background may be your ticket to travel on someone else's money. Sure, you'll have to work hard while you're there, but you'll get to see places and meet people you never would if you're a drone in some corporate cube farm. )   At the end of every episode, somebody is eliminated by a panel of judges--in this case it would be some of the best minds in the process industries. I'm thinking Control Hall of Famers, or people like them. Also somebody from the C-level at major process automation vendors. Maybe somebody from the engineering faculty at a good school or the operations manager at a big process plant. The prize at the end for "one lucky winner" is a scholarship for another year of school or an internship at a good company. The winner in the "top model" show gets a one-year contract with one of the biggest modeling agencies in the country. The top cook gets $100,000 to start a restuarant, go abroad to learn a different kind of cooking, whatever he or she wants to do for their career. Same idea here. Who would sponsor such a show? The same kinds of folks who sponsor the model show and the cooking show--those with a vested interest in that industry. The Siemens, Honeywells, Emersons and Rockwells place their products in the show, the same way Maybelline supplies all the make-up for the models and Sub-Zero supplies all the refrigerators for the cooking show. They provide the prizes in the form of the internships or scholarships. Big manufacturers run ads showing what they're doing and why working for them in process automation could be a good thing. They get a chance to tell a positive story about manufacturing. (And cable t.v. advertising isn't that expensive. It's not like buying Super Bowl ads.) But, you say, process automation isn't as glamorous as fashion or cooking. Nobody would watch a bunch of engineers doing loop tuning. Maybe. Maybe not. Somebody is watching the show where a team of guys is tricking out motorcycles and trucks, and somebody else is watching one about the ins and outs of running a tattoo parlor. Who says there's no audience for a show about engineering? Such a show's success would depend a lot on the way you presented it. That's what television is all about: Presentation. Some attractive young people, some exotic locations, a little suspense and rivalry between the contestants. Properly done, it could work. But it's hokey, you say. Process automation is serious. We're serious people. We don't do glamor. We don't do television. I know. That may be part of the problem. Sure, life in a real process plant isn't like on television, but if all we do is keep saying, well, our jobs are really complicated and you wouldn't understand them, and besides, all the good and interesting jobs are gone now, you're never going to get young people to come on board. With that kind of sales job, why would they?   If you want to get some of the brightest and best young folks into process automation, you have to get their attention in the first place. Get them interested. Show them some of the fun challenges, the good bits of the job that attracted you in the first place. If television and computer games are the way to get it done, then let's do it.     

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