There has been considerable discussion of late about the mass retirements of baby boomers from the industrial workforce and the lack of appropriate talent to fill the gap. Many baby boomers believe that the younger generation—the millennial generation—is not up to the task and that young people have no interest in taking on the challenges. I believe the millennials are up to the task, but unfortunately I have to agree that they do not appear to have the interest.
I have noticed some very positive attributes of the millennials that align with the requirements of industry. They tend to be very altruistic. They are as technically savvy as any generation ever has been. They tend to like collaboration and are very comfortable with social media. All of these attributes are exactly what is needed in industry at this point in time. It is up to the soon-retiring workforce to recognize and capitalize on these attributes as the younger generation is assimilated into the industrial workforce.
The challenge of the lack of interest in industrial careers by millennials is much more daunting. Members of the younger generation who have a competency in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) seem to have a negative perspective of careers in industry. They see industrial careers as undesirable, dirty, and lower-tech and would much rather pursue careers in video-game software development.
Perhaps the solution to this challenge is focusing on the “altruistic attribute” of millennials. Millennials seem to desire careers that truly have a positive impact on the world. Industrial production is the key to solving many of the most challenging problems humankind is facing. It is through industry and industrial automation that world problems regarding energy, clean water, hunger, housing, and health can be improved and—in some cases—solved. What young idealistic person would not want to be part of that? Additionally, although in the past a number of industrial practices negatively affected the environment, today industry is seriously taking on the challenge and succeeding at cleaning the environment. It is up to us, those currently engaged in industrial careers, to start reaching out to millennials to share our accomplishments and the improvement potential.
With the effective use of automation technologies over the past three decades, careers in industry and industrial automation are as high-technology as any in the world. And the technology deployed in industry does real work to improve the condition of the world. Additionally, most industrial work environments are considerably nicer than young students believe, and with the further application of technology these environments will continue improving.
Engineers, as a group, tend to be among the most self-critical people I know. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in daily challenges that we forget to take a step back and look at the importance of what we have done and continue to do. Engineers are problem solvers. We have taken on some of the biggest problems society has encountered and developed very effective and clever solutions. We need to remember and communicate our contributions to the millennial generation. We must get them to understand the importance of what we do, so they will join us and produce even greater outcomes.
ISA; the Automation Federation; the Measurement, Control and Automation Association (MCAA); and others have joined to lead the effort of educating young students about the value of careers in industry and industrial automation. In fact, MCAA recently developed some videos to distribute to colleges and high schools across the globe with the intention of encouraging students to consider industrial careers. These are on the MCAA website. We need to continue and advance the great progress that has been realized, but can only accomplish if the most talented STEM students coming through the school system join the cause. Let’s start talking up what we have done, what we continue to do, and what the next generation of industrial automation professionals have the potential to accomplish. Humankind is depending on us.
Peter G. Martin, Ph.D., is vice president of business value solutions for Schneider Electric. He holds multiple patents, including patents for dynamic performance measures, real-time activity-based costing, closed-loop business control, and asset and resource modeling. He authored or co-authored four books, most recently The Value of Automation. Martin received an ISA Life Achievement Award.
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A version of this article originally was published at InTech magazine.