2014 ARC Industry Forum: Executive panel on millennials in the workforce

Industry-leading executives from Siemens, BASF, Emerson, Dow Chemical, and Comau Body Welding tackled an industry-wide challenge: attracting future engineers.

By Mark T. Hoske February 13, 2014

Ways to address the skills gap in manufacturing, talent discovery, the future of process automation, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, and related topics were discussed at the 2014 ARC Industry Forum. Panelists shared techniques for attracting and retaining engineers: Helmuth Ludwig, CEO of Siemens Industry; Andreas Wernsdörfer, vice president for automation and electrical engineering at BASF; John Berra, former chairman of Emerson Process Management; Carrie Schaller, I/T director of manufacturing and engineering at Dow Chemical; and Kirk Goins, chief operating officer for the NAFTA region at Comau Body Welding (biographies below) and host, Andy Chatha, president of the ARC Advisory Group. 

Here are some question-and-answer excerpts from the discussion:

Questions and answers have been edited for reader clarity.

Question: How do you discover talent?


  • Schaller said that her firm, Dow Chemical, employs university recruiting channels. "When I started, most came through college," she said. But now there are fewer people in their 30s, and Dow is hiring more experienced candidates.
  • Wernsdörfer said that his company, BASF, has been employing apprentice programs and courting PhD students.
  • Berra said that his firm, Emerson Process Management, employed an internal development process that evaluated potential and current employees against 19 important competencies so as to evaluate their talent pools. Firms should "tell high-potential people that they’re highly valued and give them access to top management," he said.

Question: Is there a future in process automation?


  • Ludwig of Siemens Industry said that younger generations want to remain experts in the field. Siemens has developed a process that allows experts to grow in their field without going into management but which affords them the opportunity to manage if they would like to pursue it.
  • Schaller said that students want to feel a part of a larger community. She encouraged hands-on training in technology and leadership, not "death by PowerPoint," she said.
  • Berra said he has always felt that the automation industry has not done a good job of promoting or self-advertising.
  • Chatha said that the Internet of Things (IoT) helps to broaden the future for process automation. 

Question: Student intake at universities is low. How can we go farther into culture to excite students about science, technology, engineering, and manufacturing (STEM)?


  • Ludwig argued that STEM industries are not experiencing a skills gap, but a training gap instead. He recommended a "very long-term approach" beginning at middle school levels.

Question: Has there been any effort to employ 30 and 40 year olds who made bad career decisions?


  • Goins of Comau Body Welding said that military recruiting is one possibility. He also mentioned that under-employed people view manufacturing negatively, suggesting that the industry advertise to improve its image to such groups.

Question: Firms must help transfer knowledge before people retire. How do we transfer knowledge?


  • Shaller recommended a buddy-up strategy in which younger engineers worked alongside more experienced ones.
  • Berra recommended a glide-path-like approach that assured more experienced engineers that they would not lose their positions to younger hires.

Question: Our work is becoming multi-disciplinary. How can we use cross-discipline teams to improve business performance?


  • Goins said that Comau’s execution is primarily project driven, so employees from many disciplines work together on the same team. This is better for younger employees who aren’t as attached to their desks, he said.
  • Berra said that opportunities to collaborate help everyone. Company management should foster or even force rotation, he said.
  • Calling it group engineering, Wernsdörfer believes, that cross-discipline teams are very helpful in automation and advanced controls, in particular, he said.

Panel biographies follow, courtesy of ARC Advisory Group:

  • Kirk Goins: Kirk is the COO of Comau’s Body Welding business in the NAFTA Region. He has over 25 years of experience in industrial automation and systems integration, with roles of controls supplier, service manager, system integrator, and customer. During this period the industry has experienced a tremendous amount of technological change, but the drive for reduced cost has remained constant. Kirk’s background provides a unique view into total cost of ownership and the respective areas of cost that can be influenced.
  • Helmuth Ludwig: Helmuth is responsible for all business activity and executive management of the Siemens Industry Sector business in the US. In his more than 20 years with Siemens, he has held a broad range of strategic leadership positions. Helmuth joined Siemens in 1990, working in corporate strategy developing regional business plans. After serving as general manager of Siemens’ first organization in Kazakhstan, he joined the Automation and Drives group where he was responsible for process automation systems. He then became head of Siemens Energy and Industry division in Buenos Aires. Later, he became President of the Systems and Software House within the Automation and Drives headquarters in Nuremberg, Germany. Helmuth then moved to the Systems Engineering Business Unit as President before being appointed President of Siemens PLM Software. In 2010, Helmuth became responsible for the global communications activities of the Industry Sector’s Industry Automation division. He took over as CEO for the Industry Sector in North America in October 2011.
  • John Berra: John began his career as an Instrument and Electrical Engineer at Monsanto. In 1976 he joined Rosemount, where he held several management positions, including President of the Industrial Division. He was named President of Fisher-Rosemount Systems in 1993, and in 1999 he was promoted to Senior Vice President and Process Group Business Leader for Emerson Electric. In 2008, he was named Chairman of Emerson Process Management. He is currently retired and writes a regular column for Automation World Magazine. John serves on the Board of Directors of Ryder System where he is a member of the Finance and Compensation Committees and on the Board of Directors of National Instruments where he is a member of the Audit, Compensation, and Governance Committees.
  • Carrie Schaller: Carrie leads the team that is implementing the next generation of SAP-based tools and work processes for Manufacturing & Engineering. She also has responsibility for the teams leading manufacturing cyber security, M&E architecture, and M&E I/T project management. Carrie has been with Dow for 26 years, holding a variety of roles in Information Systems before joining Manufacturing & Engineering – including program management, project management, support management, and implementation leadership.
  • Andreas Wernsdörfer: Andreas has been with BASF since 1996. He was appointed head of the global Center of Technical Expertise for Automation and Electrical Engineering within BASF in fall 2010. This group develops and implements innovative solutions for process control, automation, process on-line analytics, field instruments, and electrical applications worldwide. Before this assignment, Andreas had roles in maintenance, engineering, and project management at the headquarters of BASF in Ludwigshafen, Germany, but also for several years at sites in Malaysia, China, and USA. 

Click here for more CFE Media coverage of the 2014 ARC Industry Forum.

– Mark T. Hoske and Jordan M. Schultz, content managers, CFE Media, Control Engineering, and Plant Engineering, mhoske@cfemedia.com, jschultz@cfemedia.com.