A perfect storm is brewing in the automation world, and it has nothing to do with hardware or software. It’s about resources, which are fast becoming a bottleneck in the industry. Why? Well, there are several factors at play. I’ll address some of the bigger ones:
It’s been widely publicized that the workforce within the automation profession is aging. A recent survey showed that more than 25% of the respondents were over 55, and almost 60% were over 45. When this group retires, the collective knowledge and history of the plant operations goes with them. There’s a noticeable gap before current senior engineers are ready to fill their roles, and we’ve seen a lot of clients suffer when their most senior people leave the plant.
Leaner engineering departments
In addition to the retiree issue, engineering departments have become leaner, putting more emphasis and workload on the senior engineers. If a key person departs (is promoted, transfers or leaves the company), similar problems crop up. We don’t see much emphasis on succession planning for key resources inside the plant. Losing a key person makes a major impact, and in too many cases, we realize it far too late.
Lack of new graduates going into automation
Plenty of articles have explored why more young engineers aren’t entering the profession. Contrary to some theories, I don’t think it’s a lack of interest or perceived lack of glamour. To be honest, the industry just hasn’t been hiring to keep up with the shortages. Due to the recession, engineering companies grew leaner and haven’t invested in young engineers like they used to. Things are getting better and, having been on the campuses, I can tell you there’s a healthy pool of engineers out there looking for the best job they can find. If the automation industry starts hiring new grads and investing in their early career development, there will be plenty of resources to draw from.
Increased capital spending
The sheer number of I/O to be migrated in the next 15 years is staggering. Top that off with increased green and brownfield capital projects, and there’s a lot of work to be done. We’re already seeing that finding the resources with critical knowledge and experience is becoming one of the most vital factors for capital projects. As the economy heats up, this will only get worse.So what are we to do? For the past five years, the answer has been to go find an out-of-work (or overworked) engineer with the right skills, and hire them on. We can’t rely on that tactic anymore. It’s time for the automation profession as a whole to reinvest some of the recent gains into more and more young engineers.
Hiring new grads and getting them into training and mentoring programs takes time and money, but if we don’t act now, we’ll limit our abilities to provide cost-effective automation solutions for our clients.
How is your team weathering the storm?