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The Automation LearnPipe – Part One, Almost Empty

technical education technology


A pipe conveys something from a source to a destination or destinations. An excellent example would be the public water supply system from which your home probably consumes water.

The system has a source, a temporary storage location to guarantee continuous availability, a distribution network and destination at several locations on your property, inside and outside of your home.

Unfortunately, in the realm of industrial manufacturing, the extent of the planning to support the technologies that are showing up on the plant floor on a daily basis does not go beyond sending a request to a favorite recruiter to provide them with the appropriate personnel. This is analogous to opening the faucet at your kitchen sink, fully expecting a nice tall glass of cool fresh water to quench your thirst without having planned ahead of time to have running water. We tend to think of the source as the water tower, but you realize that you knew it was a river or lake or aquifer, without being totally conscious of that fact. You should already be way ahead of me on this illustration.

The reservoir or water tower is the pool of recent graduates. The recruiters and human resource departments are the distribution system and the consumers are the businesses that purchase technologies that need integration and support. How do individuals get into the reservoir of appropriately trained people?  What is the force that lifts/pushes them out of the masses against gravity and into the reservoir? Gravity is the educational system, which is not an upward motive force but is a downward force. Gravity, or the educational system, is a force that the learner has to overcome to arrive in the reservoir and then a force that pushes them out with a skill set that may or may not be marketable. However, I would not blame the educational system. To blame the educational system would be like blaming a control system for not knowing what features were needed for your application. Controllers are tools in automation systems and educators are tools in the educational system. There are educators in the system who are well tuned into this problem and ready to act. They are typically institutions that receive support from private industry and therein are influenced.

Again, what is the force that motivates the learner up through an education pipe and into the reservoir of graduates? Inspiration, of course, and therein lies the root of the problem. The number of young people today that have an interest in technical careers is embarrassingly insufficient to sustain the current production rates, much less any hint of growth. Who should be embarrassed? Any manufacturer that needs technical personnel that is not investing in the inspiration of youth at the source should be embarrased. There are a number of companies and corporations that do invest in programs like Science Olympiad, FIRST Lego League and FIRST Robotics Competition, not to mention many others. They are the weak force that pulls learners through the LearnPipe; they provoke inspiration while they simultaneously provide attraction or pull up the pipe, weak because there are not enough of them, but successful nonetheless. Once a young learner is inspired, assist them or get out of the way.

Just in case I missed a few details in my illustration, the source is not just people, but it is inspired people. The pipe to the reservoir is the available education resources, the reservoir is the pool of properly trained graduates and the distribution system is almost irrelevant. You fill up the reservoir with the appropriate skill sets and they will find their way to the positions of responsibility.

In summary; the Automation LearnPipe is the process flow of people from the originating point of interest to the pool (reservoir) of qualified engineers/technicians/electricians. As of this writing, January 2014, the reservoir is down to the rust sediment and the Automation LearnPipe has less than 20% of the demand resident (in process). The solution has two points of action: inspire people into the Automation LearnPipe as the long term action and retrofit the currently available workforce to support the existing automation as the short term action. How do you inspire people into the Automation LearnPipe? IMF (Inspirational Motive Force).

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