The best kept secret
Come on, you know what I'm talking about -- the secret surrounding the automation industry, the secret that much of the world has never heard about. How many times have you been asked what you do for a living? How often do you really take the time to explain your occupation? I have to admit, depending on my audience, I sometimes answer as quickly and concisely as possible. Why? Let's face it -- the average person just doesn't know about our industry. One of the first words they hear is "engineer," which immediately turns their listening switch off because they figure they won't understand it anyway. It's no wonder it's so difficult to find automation talent. Nobody outside our world knows our occupation exists.
I keep hearing and reading about the current state of the U.S. manufacturing industry, and I begin to get discouraged. I keep hearing how tough it is for U.S. manufacturers to compete in this global market. I keep hearing about the large numbers of engineers reaching retirement age, with no new graduates in the pipeline to fill the gap. The reality is much of the problem is our own fault, with "OUR" being the collective U.S.
As John Engler, President and CEO of NAM, points out in this week's featured article, "Energy costs, our broken system of civil justice, mandated employee benefits, excessive environmental regulation and high corporate taxes all place manufacturers in the United States in a tough competitive position -- a 31.7 percent tougher position, in fact."
John continues, "The NAM makes reducing these external costs a top priority from a policy standpoint, but the reality is they’re beyond manufacturers’ immediate power to fix. So employers accustomed to determining their own fates turn to areas they can control—their facilities, their practices, their supply chain, all shaped by automation."
ISA and the Automation Federation are making progress with state and federal government officials by increasing awareness of the automation industry and its positive effects on U.S. manufacturers. ISA is also working with various colleges to increase awareness and implement degree paths associated with automation. But they can't do it alone.
Just this last weekend, my wife and I were having dinner with some neighbors, and the discussion came up about our local school district in Shakopee, MN. I just haven't been involved because our kids aren't in the system yet -- our oldest will be soon. Our neighbors happen to be very involved because they have two school-aged kids and she is a former elementary school teacher. Now get this. She informs me, that in our district, Sewing 101 is still required curriculum. I couldn't believe my ears. Who sews anymore when you can buy clothes at Old Navy for more than the fabric costs? We live in a rapidly growing suburb of a very cosmopolitan Minneapolis, MN and our district is behind the times. I'm guessing we are not alone -- the curriculum is probably pretty outdated in other school districts around the U.S. as well. It's no wonder we are having a hard time finding technical talent.
In another suburb of Minneapolis, a private high school (grades 7 - 12) called Benilde-St. Margaret's is offering a three-year engineering program called Advanced Competitive Science (ACS). As a part of this program, students are involved in the design, construction, and operation of an urban search and rescue robot for the RoboCup competition. Benilde-St. Margaret's is the only high school to compete in this competition.
In 2005, the Benilde-St. Margaret's entry, RKRS (Red Knight RoboRescue Squad), won the National Championship in Atlanta, GA and placed 10th at the World Championship in Osaka, Japan.
My point with these two extreme examples is we all have to get involved at some level. My own school district is clueless. The administrators just aren't paying attention. And the only way that is going to change is if we, parents and engineers, open their eyes to technology, industry, and the world. On the other hand, the ACS program at Benilde-St. Margaret's is a perfect example of school administrators who understand what our young people need to compete in the world today.
If you aren't already, get involved with your children's schools. Participate in Career Day, but don't wait to be asked. Volunteer! Think of other ways to get involved on a local level. If we all act, just a little, together we can make a big difference.
On a lighter note, speaking of Career Day, be sure to check out the second featured Dilbert.
Enjoy the rest of this Automation Weekly!
Vice President, Publisher