Riding the whirlwind of change and opportunity

Sometimes we need to be reminded of what we already know. Control and automation professionals have always been aware that technical training and on-site experience are the key to success. However, as manufacturing grows more technologically and financially chaotic, traditional knowhow may seem to be powerless in the face of today's upheaval.


Sometimes we need to be reminded of what we already know. Control and automation professionals have always been aware that technical training and on-site experience are the key to success. However, as manufacturing grows more technologically and financially chaotic, traditional knowhow may seem to be powerless in the face of today's upheaval. It would be a mistake to believe this.

More than ever, knowledge is power. And as always, if you don't have it, you must get it fast because your job or organization can die without it. Locating essential knowledge may be a struggle, and you may need a lot more of it much quicker these days, but the nature of the challenge remains the same. You must have education, training, and probably continuous retraining to survive and succeed in manufacturing.

Retraining for competition

"Engineering professionals must learn and relearn as modern manufacturing changes if they want to compete in the global marketplace," says David Cleland, Ph.D., professor of engineering management at the University of Pittsburgh. "For many veteran professionals, retraining can be a challenging issue, but they must recognize that they may need new skills requiring formal training. The sooner they get whatever training they need, the better off they'll be. This is true whether they need training on new equipment, technology, computers, or if they need to reinforce their math training to work in a new area."

Dr. Cleland explains that manufacturing's current tumult parallels events in U.S. agriculture during the 1930s. The emergence of new capital equipment and new farming methods (not to mention the Great Depression) altered agriculture rapidly during those years, and Dr. Cleland says companies that didn't learn and change often didn't survive. "The pace of technology is relentless, and companies and professionals that don't learn to use new technologies will be left behind," adds Dr. Cleland.

Resources for updated training can include the whole spectrum of graduate, undergraduate, and community academic programs. Modern equipment is also available at manufacturing assistance center programs in Alabama, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and West Virginia. However, many cutting-edge technologies and applications are so new that they're frequently available only where they're developed and used. This puts the burden on control and automation professionals to proactively seek out developers and users of the technologies they need to learn.

New job roles

Besides learning new technologies, Dr. Cleland says many control and automation professionals are taking on new job roles to enhance their employability, which many will rely more on as mergers fuel increased job changes in the future. For many professionals, this can mean learning management, marketing, and other administrative skills. Though technologists have traditionally had to move into management to move up, the pressure for added technical expertise in management has also increased as technological change accelerates.

Dr. Cleland says the engineering management curriculum at most engineering schools now includes courses on the management principles and techniques that engineers will need to function as managers and leaders. He adds that other useful skills engineering professionals should acquire include quantitative management techniques, operations research, and statistics, as well as any applicable graduate work in computers.

"There has been a loss in job security, but this gives professionals a chance to improve their skills and make themselves more saleable," says Dr. Cleland. "Whenever change happens, someone will be threatened. Those who regard this as an opportunity will be the ones who succeed."

Six ways to survive and thrive

For control and automation professionals seeking to stay employable and employed in today's tumultuous manufacturing environment, engineering management professor David Cleland, Ph.D., recommends six basic directives:

Make sure you have a solid foundation in your technical discipline, update it regularly, and go back to school when needed;

Learn the management skills required in your technology;

Seek training in and develop your interpersonal skills;

Learn and improve your verbal and written communication skills;

Seek an understanding of the systems context of your organization, such as the existing forces acting on it; and

Learn team management skills, which requires both solid management theory training and awareness of your technology's specific process and principles.

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