I just received this press release from ISA: (I’ve added some emphasis and commentary)
ISA Leads Charge to Develop an Automation Engineering Degree Program
Research Triangle Park, NC (14 March 2007) — A committee of industry
leaders and academia met at ISA headquarters on Friday to begin work on
the learning objectives for an automation engineering curriculum for
“There is no doubt that our industry needs a program like this,” said
Ray Spangler, President of Central Automation, Inc., a rapidly growing
automation engineering firm in California. “We’re trying to hire 10
experienced automation engineers in the next two months that can quickly
begin to work with clients, and even though we’re offering premium
salaries, we’re having a hard time finding them. So much of the
technology needed in automation is missing from current engineering
curriculums that new graduates of those programs are not candidates.”
You may recall that I recently wrote an editorial excoriating my own alma mater, the University of California, Santa Cruz, for not only not having any automation classes but having Dean Steve Kang of the UCSC Engineering School try to tell me that “autonomous control” and “applied automation” were the same thing. No, Dean Kang, you’re still wrong.
Many of the automation engineers lost to retirement or made redundant by
restructuring in the past decade have now fully retired. At the same
time, demand in automation is increasing faster than for some other
types of engineers and because of the older average age, a large influx
is needed to just maintain the workforce size. Therefore, ISA estimates
that 15,000 new automation engineers are needed annually. Engineers
knowledgeable in automation are critical for keeping U.S. manufacturing
competitive in the world market, according to industry leaders.
U.S. schools do not teach automation as an undergraduate engineering
discipline, and automation technology is advancing so rapidly that it
takes one to three years for graduates of other engineering disciplines
to perform at a professional level in automation. In the past,
manufacturing companies and large engineering contractors funded the
automation training of new engineers. During that era, engineers could
be expected to remain with the company for decades.
Today, however, few companies can afford extensive training, and
engineers are more mobile. Since colleges in other countries have
automation engineering programs, some companies are importing engineers.
“We recently hired five new automation engineers from India because we
could not find them in the U.S.,” said John Lake, Director of Automation
and Control for DPR Construction, an ENR top 10 construction company in
high technology and pharmaceuticals.
But as Control has reported many times over the past few years, this, too is getting harder to do as Indian and other global nationals can stay in their own countries and have lifestyle parity with the US and Western Europe.
“We’ve spent a lot of time talking to industry leaders about their
issues and concerns, and over and over again, we’ve heard them talk
about finding the next generation of automation engineers for their
companies,” said ISA President Steve Huffman. “Engineering construction
firms, system integrators, manufacturers and suppliers alike are facing
the same problem – they need to find capable automation engineers to
replace their aging staff. ISA is committed to leading the way in
development of programs and building an automation talent pipeline to
The committee is made up of the following volunteers:
– Randy Buchanan, Assistant Director, School of Computing,
University of Southern Mississippi, chair
– Kelvin Erickson, Department Chair of Electrical and Computer
Engineering, University of Missouri – Rolla
– John Lake, Director of Automation and Control, DPR Construction
– Lee Lane, Commercial Engineering Manager, Rockwell Automation
– Steve McAlonan, Southeast U.S. Business Development Manager,Industrial Measurement and Control, National Instruments
– Russ Rhinehart, Bartlett Chair and School Head, School of Chemical Engineering, Oklahoma State University
– Scott Risk, Automation Engineer, Pfizer Inc.
– Vernon Trevathan, consultant and ISA VP for Professional Development
– Todd Walter, Industrial Measurement and Control Group Manager, National Instruments
Please note once again the involvement of National Instruments in an important educational endeavor. National is well known for its willingness to put its money and its manpower where its mouth is…nice to see them do it again. I encourage every other vendor in this space to contact Vern Trevathan and join up.
“Our goal is to develop curriculum content for a 4-year automation
engineering degree program,” said committee chair Randy Buchanan of the
University of Southern Mississippi. “Once we have that in place, we’ll
work with universities to implement programs and with ABET to get the
Oh yeah, I volunteer to help. Tell me what you want me to do.