ISA Targets Automation Engineering Shortage

The Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society (ISA) recently launched two initiatives in the education arena aimed at alleviating the shortage of qualified automation engineers.

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In one effort, the ISA launched a CAP Associate recognition program for students interested in working in the automation field. The CAP Associate program provides recognition of the student’s interest and knowledge of automation. ISA will offer a CAP Associate exam, and students who pass the exam will receive one year of “work experience” credit toward ISA’s Certified Automation Professional (CAP) certification program requirements. CAP applicants who have a four-year technical degree must document five years of experience in automation.

ISA’s CAP certification program offers qualified automation professionals a chance to prove their knowledge and skills through a comprehensive examination focused around the key areas of automation. “By giving students the opportunity to get ahead of the game by taking an exam like this, we’re encouraging them to pursue a career in automation and receive a respected recognition for their education up to that point,” said Vernon Trevathan, vice president of ISA’s Professional Development Department.

In another, potentially farther reaching initiative, the ISA recently convened a committee of industry leaders and academia to begin work on the learning objectives for an automation engineering curriculum for universities.

“There is no doubt that our industry needs a program like this,” said Ray Spangler, President of Central Automation Inc., a rapidly growing automation engineering firm in Bakersfield, Calif. “We’re trying to hire 10 experienced automation engineers in the next two months that can quickly begin to work with clients, and even though we’re offering premium salaries, we’re having a hard time finding them. So much of the technology needed in automation is missing from current engineering curriculums that new graduates of those programs are not candidates.”

Many of the automation engineers lost to retirement or made redundant by restructuring in the past decade have now fully retired. At the same time, demand in automation is increasing faster than for some other types of engineers, and because of the older average age, a large influx is needed to just maintain the workforce size. Therefore, ISA estimates that 15,000 new automation engineers are needed annually. 

“We’ve spent a lot of time talking to industry leaders about their issues and concerns, and over and over again, we’ve heard them talk about finding the next generation of automation engineers for their companies,” said ISA President Steve Huffman. “ISA is committed to leading the way in development of programs and building an automation talent pipeline to industry.”

“Our goal is to develop curriculum content for a four-year automation engineering degree program,” said committee chair Randy Buchanan of the University of Southern Mississippi. “Once we have that in place, we’ll work with universities to implement programs and with ABET (an accrediation organization) to get the programs accredited.”

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