The Cure for the Automation Workforce Crisis

This guest post is authored by Paul J. Galeski, CEO and Founder, MAVERICK Technologies

The U.S. manufacturing sector faces a crisis: Our nation’s skilled automation professionals are diminishing in number — just when we need them most. Retiring Two Workers Trainingworkers are leaving a huge void in the field, but new blood hasn’t rushed to fill it. Even new opportunities like shale oil extraction haven’t attracted the manpower they require. Why? Today’s college graduates either aren’t aware of these significant career options, or view them as blue-collar and therefore less desirable. Graduates enter other areas of business instead. And how can we blame them? There is little or no formal education program for automation professionals.

So, here we stand, on the brink of the American manufacturing renaissance, without the resources needed to make it a success. It’s up to us — the automation community — to close the gap between workforce supply and demand through our own training and career development programs. We must act now in order to grow the next generation of automation professionals. And we can do it, if we implement these best practices for automation workforce development:

  • Real-world application. Any successful automation training and development program must put learning into action soon after the learning. Hands on experience on actual automation projects is the only way to make knowledge stick.
  • Opportunity to learn on the job. Companies should embed inexperienced internal resources on project work that is outsourced. This way, new automation professionals can begin doing real work right away, gaining hands-on experience with specific processes and technology while referencing mentors.
  • Training flexibility. The best training programs offer a wide variety of courses, labs, meetings and seminars — all available through a range of delivery models. Variety is the spice of learning. There is no one silver bullet that will create an automation professional. The learning process takes years and exposure to many different types of learning experiences. For example, automation professionals should be able to access customized e-learning materials via video, webcast and podcast at any time. The one-to-one nature of this learning style ensures that each student receives information appropriate for his experience level.
  • A process-focused talent development model. Companies that develop their own automation talent must offer a curriculum that balances mastery of specific technologies and processes with the ability to think beyond existing norms  to find the best solution for the challenge at hand. Training labs must provide insight into specific processes and applications—and again these need to be based on real-world projects. A process focus with platform-specific course options helps to ensure successful talent development.
  •  Continuous improvement. Companies must work to develop talent over time, as resources move from one level to the next. Therefore, training should include a leadership guidance curriculum that covers soft skills such as client interaction, conflict resolution, career advancement and project management in addition to real world training. Clear and specific succession planning processes need to be in place such that young professionals remain challenged and can envision a path toward long term success.

The gap between automaton workforce supply and demand continues to widen, and it’s up to us to close it. It’s up to us to offer the training and education programs our employees need to succeed. And it’s up to us to secure America’s position as the global manufacturing leader.

Paul J. Galeski

About the Author
As CEO and founder of MAVERICK Technologies, Paul is instrumental in managing all aspects of the company. He is involved in strategically investing capital — both intellectual and financial. Paul specializes in high-level operational consulting, as well as the development of overall automation and integration strategies. He is also involved in expert witness testimony, and is a contributing author to Aspatore Books’ Inside the Minds, a series of publications that examine C-level business intelligence.
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  • Fergusonweb

    While I have been on this bandwagon for a number of years and steered my own children into Engineering for these very reasons, I recently have a different take on it.

    It should follow the laws of supply and demand. It there is a shortage (which I believe there is), the value and price for such people should be going up. While I have seen small cracks for the most part my own company cries about the shortage all the time, but has not raised the wages to entice people.

    I think when this happens, people will get in, world will get out, kids will choose it as a profession and the “supply” will increase.

    I blame greed as a big part of the shortage also as Automation has made corporations millions yet they refuse to want to pay more for it as the shortage increases.

    I agree with all your reasons but think there are also others at play.

    Dave Ferguson
    Control Systems Engineer