Looking for Controls Engineering Skills? Try Certified Systems Integrators

The Control System Integrators Association partnered with Automation World to develop a survey that would provide an overview of how the manufacturing industries see system integrators. Respondents' opinions of system integrators were largely favorable, but how many actually plan to use systems integrators to address the skills gap they are facing?

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Numerous solutions are available to address the skills gap problem facing manufacturers. From partnerships between manufacturers and local community colleges to adapting the engineering education model, real action is being taken to address manufacturers’ need for more skilled workers. The problem is that all of the steps being taken require years to fully develop, meaning that none of them adequately address the problem facing manufacturers now.

What does that skills gap problem look like for those in need of automation and controls professionals? See if any of these comments resonate:

It’s very hard to replace senior level control system engineer. New engineers do not have same skill level or work ethics. Without understanding field instrumentation, it is hard to understand our systems. We have also found that new engineers do not want to take time to understand the fundamentals of field instrumentation.

The workforce is not competent and it affects the execution time of the project and the quality of the documentation and presentation.

Skills gap is present. Automation technologies are changing very fast and there’s no easy way to follow actual trends. Cycles of changes are getting shorter and shorter.

Control engineers right out of school lacks hands-on skills; plus they are not experienced with industrial standard practices.

We have experienced controls professionals, just not many of them. Big projects need to be done with outside resources.

Over time we spent a lot of effort trying to find experienced engineers. We were largely unsuccessful and realized that we needed to build the experience step by step with our own people. We need to shift the role of the senior engineers from project work to monitoring and resource development.

It seems as if the industry believes a controls engineer is no more than a software designer. However, a controls engineer needs to be well versed in building schematics, laying out panels, and troubleshooting problems that may include understanding mechanics. Too many new controls engineers do not have the skill sets required to do a job without having multiple people helping.

To help understand the issue better with an eye toward developing a more comprehensive approach to the issue, the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA, www.controlsys.org) partnered with Automation World to develop a survey that would provide an overview of how the manufacturing industries assess system integrators. Armed with this kind of information, the CSIA can better understand how to position system integrators’ capabilities to address skills gap issues in the near term. That’s where the above comments came from.

Other survey results showed that manufacturers are very familiar with system integrators in general. Nearly 50 percent have worked on a project with a system integrator in the past year, and some 75 percent have worked with a system integrator at some point in the past five years.

Respondents' opinions of system integrators was also largely favorable, with almost 50 percent noting that system integration firm’s ability to complete the project was something the manufacturer could not have done on their own with in-house expertise. Another 25 percent cited value in the lessons they learned after working with a system integrator; they also favorably recognized the speed with which projects were completed with the help of a system integrator.

Some respondents note that they are already using system integrators to address these issues, or plan to do so soon. Twenty-eight percent of respondents said they plan to use system integrators in the near term because it is “difficult to find the next generation of engineers.” Another 21 percent said they plan to use system integrators because it is less expensive than hiring and training staff engineers.

However, half of respondents said they had no plans to use system integrators to address the need for specifically skilled workers. One of the possible reasons that these manufacturers likely don't view system integrators as a potential solution to their skills gap problem. After all, 45 percent of respondents were not familiar with the CSIA—an organization focused on vetting and improving the business viability of system integrators. With more than 400 member firms located in 27 countries, the CSIA hosts the CSIA Exchange, a website designed to help manufacturers connect with system integrators capable of addressing their project needs.

In terms of what, specifically, a system integrator can do to help manufacturers address their skills gap issues, Ed Diehl, co-CEO ofConcept Systems Inc.,a certified member of theControl System Integrators Association, says, “System integrators provide manufacturers with a skilled team that can tackle anything from leading a large-scale integration effort for a new process, to retrofitting obsolete control systems, or developing an innovative automated approach to an old problem. Many system integrators also provide ongoing service, support and maintenance for your automated systems.”

Diehl highlights five specific examples of how system integrators can help in the full survey report, “Solving the Skills Gap with Systems Integrators.” Download a copy at http://awgo.to/csiasurveyreport

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