Celebrating a Dedicated Automation Industry Contributor: Dr. Ken Ryan | Automation.com

Celebrating a Dedicated Automation Industry Contributor: Dr. Ken Ryan

Celebrating a Dedicated Automation Industry Contributor: Dr. Ken Ryan

By Bill Lydon, Editor, Automation.com

The automation industry lost a dedicated and creative professional in Dr. Kenneth (Ken) Ryan, who died while flying a private airplane, on Saturday, July 28th, 2018.  I got to know Ken Ryan over 15 years covering the automation industry and we became good friends.  Throughout this time, I found Ken to be a knowledgeable, inventive, and passionate professional, always engaged in forwarding the profession and inspiring young people.  Ken was an amazing man with a wide scope of knowledge and interests that he enthusiastically pursued. My prayers are with the family, which I know Ken cherished, as invariably our professional conversations would turn to family. These conversations occurred on multiple occasions during countless industry events. Ken and I even worked together in some instances, furthering industrial automation programming standards in the PLCopen organization, working at trade events, and giving joint presentations.  I am sure many are joining me in missing the engaging conversations and the flowing of ideas that was common with Ken.


Ken Ryan: Building the Industry

Among his professional achievements, Ryan was instrumental in creating the highly successful mechatronics education program at the Alexandria Technical and Community College, in Alexandria MN.  The program has developed a tremendous reputation in the industry and graduating students are highly sought after. 

Ryan was also Director of Education at BE.services, a service which provides experts to outsource automation software development services and education, instrumental in the creation of BE.educated, the e-learning platform for Industrial Automation Software particularly IEC 61131-3 training.

In addition, Ryan was an expert in the training and application of the IEC 61131-3 programming and PLCopen standard and had served in the past as a member of the Board of Directors of PLCopen.


Advancing Automation Through Professional Development

One of the areas where Dr. Ryan and I particularly connected was on the need for more skilled people in automation and making efforts to create an environment conducive for youth to thrive in the automation industry. After a particularly intense discussion about the, “emerging skills crisis”, I asked Ryan to share his insightful expertise in an InTech magazine Executive Corner article focusing on the industry situation. I have referred to this article many times in my coverage and, in testament to Ryan’s industry foresight and expertise, is still accurate and informative today. He will be greatly missed.


*** Dr. Ken Ryan InTech Executive Corner Article March/April 2010 ***

The 'emerged' skill crisis …

By Dr. Ken Ryan

Editor's Note: Dr. Ken Ryan is an education professional passionate about giving people the education and know-how to improve manufacturing comments on the issues in North America. This is one perspective, and InTech is interested in perspectives from other parts of the world with similar issues.

We used to speak about an "emerging" skill shortage in this country as much as we used to talk about the "potential" financial crisis.

Well, they both happened!

Not only is the skill shortage knocking on our front doors, it is now residing in our living rooms as we permanently rearrange our furniture.

There are two principle reasons for this:

  1. We have duped ourselves into believing we can build a sustainable economy without the durable manufacturing activities that characterize those nations threatening to eclipse us.
  2. We face not only an aging of the skilled workforce but a collateral erosion of the education assets required to replenish the supply.

Reversal of the first problem demands a steeling of the collective social will that may be beyond the American public's attention span. In this case, "Resistance is futile!" We may as well sit down, collect our government checks, and wait for the end; however, I believe it is still (barely) within our power to reestablish the preeminence of manufacturing in our society. Given this resolve, we must point out why we are in this predicament and then focus on solving problem number two.

First, in a self-absorbed focus on academic purity, pensions, and seniority, we educators have participated in the isolation and politicization of the American education system and taken our collective eye off the prize of service to the next generation.

Next, in pursuit of optimized bottom lines for its shareholders, industry has commoditized and devalued skilled employees while simultaneously abdicating its social contract for the education of its most precious resource, its future workforce.

Now both parties decry the inability of the government to adequately fund the education system each abandoned in their rush to self aggrandizement.

What can post-secondary education do? (Get real …)

  • Invite dedicated informed industry stakeholders onto curriculum advisory committees. Listen to them, but listen harder.
  • Throw away your laminated lesson plans. Just because it was the right thing to teach yesterday, does not mean it is relevant today.
  • Get involved with industry standards committees.
  • Get out of the tower and get involved in current industry trends. Ask the following questions: What is industry doing? What do they need from us? How do we deliver?
  • Quit making every student so specialized, limiting their value to employers.
  • Get more practical and less theoretical. There must be a balance between the two.
  • Start teaching technicians across the technical spectrum (e.g., mechatronics).
  • Take over the technical training responsibilities abandoned by the secondary education system.

What can industry do? Invest in the future workforce that will make you successful.

  • Stop outsourcing.
  • Get involved in curriculum advisory committees at your local technical/community college or university.
  • Open your facility to educators for industry co-ops during the summer.
  • Badger your legislators to support education funding for skilled technician training.
  • Quit turning a blind-eye to the closure of hands-on education programs in secondary schools.
  • Start valuing technicians and technologists as much as you value engineers. (We hope.)

Effective technical education and the development of technical people by companies are serious problems that demand serious action. Forming a circular firing squad will not get the job done. This is not a gradual decline into mediocrity we face, but an ever steepening spiral into economic malaise.

We are rapidly approaching the tipping point. The day will come when some national security threat will wake us from our service economy hangover only to find the educational infrastructure needed to support a nimble, technologically-advanced response has fallen into such a state of neglect that it will collapse under the demand of the hour.

As Warren Buffett said: "You never know who's swimming naked until the tide goes out." Regarding the skill shortage, not only are we naked, but the global bully on the beach is threatening to kick sand in our works.

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