If the number of recruitment emails and LinkedIn messages I have been receiving (and you might be receiving too) can be used as an indicator of the automation job market, there are still more openings than candidates for automation engineering positions. It’s not just emails and messages that are telling the story, though. Headlines pop up on a daily basis announcing the lack of trained automation resources. Job postings are aging a hundred or more days before being filled. Everyone seems to be asking for more people!
In my opinion, trained resources are only part of the story. The low numbers of interested graduates help paint the complete picture. Not many college graduates know what automation is, let alone are compelled to join the industry. In fact, many of the candidates we interview mistake automation for automotive. At a speech on the industry that I gave at a local college recently, students expressed they were unsure what skillsets would make for a good automation engineer (regardless of how well described a job posting may be), so many opted to pursue more familiar companies and positions instead. As the old adage goes: “They don’t know what they don’t know.” And they definitely aren’t drawn to what is unfamiliar.
When it comes to cybersecurity, I’m a firm believer it is our collective social responsibility to secure our plants. I believe the same social responsibility exists when it comes to recruiting and branding our industry for the next generation. A well written job description or booth at a recruiting fair is not soon enough, and might not be impactful enough. Our efforts must come earlier and be more far reaching if we want to help our industry prosper and bring in an influx of ideas and innovation.
There are several things Panacea’s team does to brand automation, but there are so many options available. Picking one or a few of the suggestions below will have our industry well on its way to the interest it deserves. The added bonus is that, in some cases, you might not brand automation specifically, but you might change someone’s life by showing them a path to success they never knew existed.
• Future City is a project-based learning program where middle school students imagine, research, design and build cities of the future. Each team needs a mentor to help teach project design principles and help educate students on their industry and field of work. Find your region to inquire about volunteering locally.
• FIRST (For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology) has programs for students of every age to help build science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills and foster a supportive community of teamwork. There are numerous volunteer opportunities for FIRST.
• Talks and presentations at local universities. Whether through professional organizations (ISA, ISPE, etc.) or through a university or college directly, professors and career center staff are more than happy to have industry professionals come speak to their students. It is a great way to get the word out on automation as well as give advice and potentially become a mentor. Interactive and informative sessions are the most successful and will leave the biggest impact. Although each university and college has a different process, contacting the career center is the best way to start.
• Talks and presentations with local elementary, middle and high schools. Similar to the last item, but with younger students and geared toward their level of understanding. If your local schools don’t have a Future City or FIRST team, this is a great way to start one or begin the process of other STEM-based clubs. Reaching out to the administration or counselor’s office is a great way to start.
Getting involved requires only your time, but the impact to students’ lives and our industry as a whole will pay dividends. Solving the automation and overall STEM candidate shortage must begin early and starts with us.
William Aja is vice president of customer operations at Panacea Technologies Inc., a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Panacea, visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.