As ISA members – as shapers and ambassadors of the great career field of automation – it should be our collective goal that when we leave this profession, we leave it in better hands than when we entered it.
While we strive to reach our own personal and professional goals, we should also keep an eye on the future, watchful of the progress being made in preparing the next generation of automation professionals and engineers.
Of course, advocacy is one of ISA’s long-term strategic objectives and at the core of the Automation Federation’s mission. It’s essential to sustaining the long-term health and viability of the automation profession and to ongoing technological innovation and societal progress.
Much has been written lately about the fact that the U.S., in particular, is losing its competitive edge in the world economy because fewer young people are pursuing STEM learning and even fewer are entering the STEM-centric career fields of automation and engineering.
Many of the trends and statistics we’re hearing about are worrisome and should merit concern. According to the National Math + Science Initiative, a non-profit organization that seeks to improve US students’ performance in STEM:
- U.S. students recently finished 27th in math and 20th in science in the ranking of 34 countries by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
- The U.S. may be short as many as 3 million high-skilled workers by 2018. Two-thirds of those jobs will require at least some post-secondary education.
- The prestigious World Economic Forum ranks the U.S. as 48 in quality of math and science education.
- Twenty-five years ago, the U.S. led the world in high school and college graduation rates. Today, the U.S. has dropped to 20th and 16th.
It’s important to recognize, though, that there are a lot of great things happening and a lot of bright, dedicated people are working toward positive change. And positive change is occurring.
An excellent example took place 22-25 April in St. Louis, Mo., where the annual FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Championship drew more than 18,000 students, from ages 6-8, to compete in four age-specific competitions celebrating their engineering skills and scientific know-how. The showpiece of the four-day event was the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC).
In all, more than 400,000 students participated in FIRST programs throughout the 2014-15 season, and more than $20 million in college scholarships are expected to be distributed through FIRST in 2015.
As strategic alliance partners of FIRST, ISA and the Automation Federation hosted an informational exhibit at the event where student competitors could learn about the automation profession and how to plan for careers in the field. A group of practicing automation professionals from the St. Louis area – volunteering on behalf of ISA and the Automation Federation – met with FIRST competitors and their family members to answer questions about career opportunities in automation and engineering.
I applaud the efforts of the ISA members who attended FIRST. They serve as excellent examples of the type of volunteer engagement and commitment to advocacy that can make a real difference in encouraging young people toward rewarding careers in automation and engineering. I hope more ISA members will follow their lead.
Note that FIRST programs require year-round support. Volunteers, coaches and mentors are needed in local communities throughout the year. Visit the volunteer section of the FIRST website for more information and how you can get involved.
Project Lead the Way (PLTW), a member organization of the Automation Federation, is another valuable organization centered on improving young people’s STEM learning. By establishing partnership teams comprised of business and industry professionals, educators, administrators, parents and students, PLTW develops community-focused STEM curricula for use by elementary, middle, and high schools.
Automation professionals and engineers are needed to join teams in their area, which link a local district or school’s PLTW program to the community, the local economy, and local industry needs. For more information on how you can play a role, visit the volunteer section of the PLTW website.
If you’re wondering about the real-world impact of FIRST and PTLW, review some of these significant findings.
A study recently conducted by Brandeis University showed that FIRST students are:
- More than seven times as likely to major in engineering compared to other students.
- Roughly 10 times as likely to have had an apprenticeship, internship, or co-op job in their freshman year.
- Significantly more likely to expect to achieve a post-graduate degree.
- More than twice as likely to expect to pursue a career in science and technology.
- Nearly four times as likely to expect to pursue a career specifically in engineering.
Independent research studies reveal that PLTW students outperform their peers in school, are better prepared for post-secondary studies, and are more likely to consider careers as scientists, technology experts, engineers, mathematicians, healthcare providers, and researchers compared to their non-PLTW peers.
In one prominent study, performed at the Indiana University School of Education, researchers found that:
- High school graduates who participated in PLTW were nearly three times as likely to major in STEM, and three to four times more likely to study engineering, versus non-PLTW graduates.
- Students who took three or more PLTW courses while in high school were six times more likely to study STEM, and eight times more likely to study engineering in college than their peers who had not taken PLTW while in high school.
The point I want to make is that real progress is being made. But more ISA members are needed to sustain the positive momentum.
There are so many ways to make a real difference. (Many of them are outlined in the websites referenced above.) Volunteer at an event. Speak at a local school. Provide a classroom a tour of your plant. Mentor a robotic team. Donate computers and equipment. Provide financial support, internships, and scholarships. Refer to the Automation Federation for more ideas and ways you can get involved.
The key is that any commitment of effort or time is worthwhile. It’s a great investment in the future of our profession, our young people, and our society.
A version of this article also has been published in ISA Insights.