ISA President Gerald Cockrell: "Nudging" ISA Forward

2009 ISA President Gerald Cockrell hopes to foster advances in critical areas including workforce development, furthering the automation profession and increasing ISA’s global presence.

Gerald Cockrell, Ph.D. and Certified Automation Professional, is the 2009 President of the International Society of Automation.
Gerald Cockrell, Ph.D. and Certified Automation Professional, is the 2009 President of the International Society of Automation.
Gerald Cockrell, Ph.D. and Certified Automation Professional (CAP), is the 2009 President of the International Society of Automation (ISA). He is also Professor and Director of the Center for Automation and Systems Integration at the Indiana State University College of Technology, in Terre Haute, Ind. He recently spoke with Automation World Editor in Chief Gary Mintchell via e-mail.

Automation World: How is ISA doing in this time of economic uncertainty?
Gerald Cockrell: The end result of any crisis situation is determined not by the crisis itself, but by the way that we react to it. The global financial crisis is no exception. Like most of the world, ISA’s leaders have been analyzing trends and watching the marketplace for months, and we’ve adjusted our budgets accordingly.

ISA is in a relatively unique and positive position as an organization because of our success and financial management over the course of the last 60 years. We have a number of critical economic factors on our side, despite the doom-and-gloom forecasts on the evening news. ISA is fortunate to have significant reserves held in an investment portfolio, and despite the stock market’s plummet, we still have a significant cushion in this fund.

If you have a financial advisor for your personal assets, you’ve probably heard more than a few lectures about diversification, and an organization like ISA has to pay close attention to the same concept when looking at our products and services. We’re fortunate in that we are diverse—we have core competencies that range from education and training to publishing and conferences, and we have customers from all over the world in dozens of different industries. If one revenue stream or one industry or even one part of the world is hit significantly harder than others, we have the diversification to make up some ground on those losses.

Another key factor in determining an organization’s ability to remain successful despite a poor economic climate is its capacity for innovation. Our members and leaders represent the best and brightest in the profession, and their insights and contributions to ISA’s products and services, technical content and delivery mechanisms keep us evolving.

Finally, an organization whose products and services match up with the needs of businesses during this difficult time will not only succeed, but could even grow. Some of ISA’s offerings are particularly poised to do this, like our in-plant training programs, which save companies time and money by bringing experts to their locations to train employees, or CyberU, which offers affordable online training for individuals. Our certification programs could also see a jump in applicants, since standing out from the crowd is critical in a tough job market.

AW: What would you like to accomplish during your year of leadership?
Cockrell: When I was first elected, I wanted to include so many things on my agenda for the year. Once reality set in, and I realized that I have only a year to make an impact, I thought about something that I tell my graduate students at Indiana State University when they’re considering topics for dissertation research. I always advise them to think of ways that they can “nudge” their chosen technology along a bit in its development, rather than trying to make huge changes that can rarely be accomplished in such a short time frame.

So, I’m going to take my own advice and try to “nudge” ISA forward in the critical areas of workforce development, furthering the automation profession, and increasing ISA’s global presence.

Workforce Development and Furthering the Automation Profession: It is imperative that we, as members of the automation family, help bring new people to our profession. A huge number of automation professionals, from technicians to engineers, are nearing the end of their careers. ISA members and leaders have started several initiatives to help get young people excited about automation, and despite the short-term challenge of this economy, we need to maximize our efforts so that we can make a long-term difference. Our collaboration with the other members of the Automation Federation to develop the Automation Competency Model with the U.S. Department of Labor, our ongoing government relations programs, and our partnerships with public and private groups will all impact the development of the next generation of automation professionals and the recognition of the automation profession, both here in the United States and around the world.

Increasing ISA’s Global Presence: I want to continue my predecessors’ efforts to continue ISA’s brand extension efforts throughout the world. One part of this effort involves increasing the synergy between all of our Sections and Districts so that we can truly leverage the global base of our membership. In addition to working with the membership we already have, it’s critical that we continue to build new partnerships with global partners in emerging markets. As an example, just last month, ISA entered into a partnership with the Singapore Polytechnic Institute to deliver automation, instrumentation and control training to professionals in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region. We intend to create more of these partnerships and initiatives in the coming year all over the world.

AW: What can ISA do to make people realize the importance of manufacturing?
Cockrell: In addition to our workforce development efforts and our work to further the automation profession, which will inevitably heighten the awareness of manufacturing, ISA has an opportunity to deliver a particularly timely message to important stakeholders. We will also continue to work closely with our strategic partners, including organizations whose main focus is the manufacturing sector. Through our partnerships, we will engage with these organizations and help to push their agendas forward for the good of the whole.

The tough economic climate means that we, as automation professionals, have an opportunity to offer solutions to the crisis. Automation is a field that can offer the methods to improve the productivity, quality, and efficiency of processes. The automation professional is a valuable asset to any company wanting to improve and maintain high levels of competitiveness.

Through our work with the Automation Federation, we’ve talked with dozens of U.S. Senators and members of Congress about the importance of the automation careers that can increase the effectiveness of our nation’s businesses. Our ongoing relationship with these stakeholders means that we can communicate what the automation profession has to offer in hot-button areas as well as continuing to stress the overall importance of all of the industries we serve.
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