Future Industrial Automation Technology
Automation will continue to evolve and advance into the future as producers and manufacturers demand productivity at a lower cost. Automation comes into play when control signals replace human capital to make a product. However, for automation technology to complete its intended purpose, it requires a unique form of human capital equipped with skills to troubleshoot, diagnose, and maintain these rapidly evolving systems.
Unfortunately, the United States has seen a recent shortage of trained individuals such as control technicians, who are qualified to maintain these high tech systems. In order for the United States to sustain its competitive edge in this field, it must correct its labor force shortages in manufacturing competency. It is estimated that half of the 5 million jobs that will be created in the next 10 years, will continue to be unfilled due to the reality of an aging work force and an increased amount of individuals facing retirement. Consequently, the up incoming workers projected to replace those who leave the labor force are less than qualified to fill in the gaps in today’s competitive environment.
In order to deter this issue, the government in conjunction with the manufacturing industry, and local school systems must make a concerted effort into reversing the trend. A trade and education technology policy must be put in place to set a target goal within the next 15 years to address the skills gap by considering the following recommendations that would usher the next generation of automation work force. Four areas that need improvement to preserve the U.S. automation industry are as follows:
a. The government should incentivize most 2 year institutions to award free attendance to students who display commitment to completing a course in manufacturing automation technology. Some institutions refer to these courses as Industrial Systems Technology or Mechatronics Technology. All of which are courses that imbed electrical, motor controls, Programmable Logic Controller, robotics, and mechanical into the program. A curriculum based in the previously stated fields will enhance the skills of individuals who are currently working and are interested in learning new skills, but are unable to afford training.
b. A second area of improvement that could benefit the automation industry, is if automation Companies bring back On the Job Training (OJT), apprenticeship programs, and shadowing programs. Reintroducing the previously stated training/programs would provide those who are unable to attend a traditional classroom environment, an avenue to “earn while they learn”. This structure is particularly beneficial for individuals who need to support their family while simultaneously developing his or her skills by learning the fundamentals.
c. A third area of improvement must begin by placing emphasis on hiring and re-training veterans. The benefit of hiring/retraining veterans in this work force is that through military service, they are disciplined, skillful, and able to manage stress and thrive in a rigorous work setting. Furthermore, the benefits of hiring/training veterans include their ability to work well in a team environment. Moreover, veterans possess strong communication skills, and they understand the importance of time management which was developed during their military training.
d. A fourth solution to the shortage of workers in the automation technology field, can be found if prison reform is improved. For instance, Prison Reform could include provisions to allow certain qualified prisoners accused of lesser crimes, to take a rehabilitation training program in automation as an incentive for early release. As a result, later these individuals can be partnered with an industry sponsor. I believe that this is an un-tapped source of training and development for future automation technology workers. Doing so would reverse the trend of the decreasing number of automation technology workers; in addition to lowering the probability of repeat offenses that maybe be linked to unemployment and discrimination.
As far as the dominance of the United States in the global market place is concerned, possessing a trained industrial work force in the manufacturing sector is vital. Therefore, these three institutions must work hand in hand to achieve and sustain technological competiveness.
Moreover, as income grows and labor becomes expensive, the demand to automate becomes a reality. Unfortunately, China in particular is spending billions of dollars in automation and other technologies in an attempt to surpass the United States. According to a report by the Council on Foreign Relations, China projects to dominate the United States by 2025 in the following industries: artificial Intelligence, aerospace, semi-conductors, 5G Technology, and advanced manufacturing processes in the future generations of electric vehicles.
In closing, the issue of the deficient number workers in the Automation Technology industry in the U.S., can be deterred through a number of possible avenues. Those avenues include the government incentivizing a two year automation technology education, as well as OJT/apprenticeship programs, hiring veterans, and prison reform. That being said, change will not transpire in the automation technology industry if things remain the same and the United States does not take action to foster change.