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The Automation LearnPipe – Part Three, Current Workforce Retrofit


Many of us were blessed with a sense of self determination, but this is not the case for everyone. It is erroneous to conclude that those we see as accomplished have had all of it handed to them from their early childhood. This would be to assume that they attended the best schools, were allowed study free from work and chores, were provided convenient transportation, had encouraging family and friends, a healthy diet and access to organized sports. Although there are accomplished individuals that came from that environment, history shows us that the most accomplished had very little, if any, of those benefits. There are only two things that an individual needs from either extreme of childhood environments  and everything in-between; they need an interestand they need to believe that they can do it.

Conventional wisdom says, “Get your education and build a career before you start real life”. I have met more people from without than within this category. I myself dropped out of high school and enlisted in the Marine Corp. for four years, continued my technical education in the military and spent thirteen months in Viet Nam in a combat zone learning first hand about leadership and teamwork. I finished high school in the evenings on the military base while married with two children. None of this stopped me from learning and building a career; it just made it more interesting. I had learned to read, write and exercise math up through algebra and geometry in high school, I had an interest in electricity/electronics, and I knew that I could do whatever I decided that I wanted to do. As I pursued my “interest”, I discovered where my knowledge was insufficient and enrolled in college courses to fill those gaps. The more I learned, the more I discovered things that I did not know, and the more courses I completed to satisfy the voids. I earned an associates degree and yet the thirst grew stronger resulting in more and more college courses until I had surpassed a Bachelors degree. At 66 years old, the thirst has not abated.

If the workforce cannot read, write and exercise basic math effectively, then this is were you start. Children and adults do not learn in the same way; children have very little in the way of experiential knowledge and have to be approached accordingly. Adults learn with an approach that considers and utilizes their experiences. K through 12 teachers do not normally make good adult educators. Therefore, your fundamental skills programs must be built on practical applications and not theory. The instructors must be effective purveyors of word pictures appropriate for the learners; they must be tuned-in to the real world and challenges of adults.

Once the employees have the basic tools of learning, they need the opportunity to learn. This goes beyond thumbtacking a document on the plant bulletin board that outlines the requirements for tuition reimbursement. I have spent at least 10 years on the plant floor as an electrical controls engineer. Without exception, when there is money for training, it is because production is up and there is no time for training. Consequently, when production is down there are not funds budgeted for training. In a nutshell, when there is money there is no time and when there is time there is no money. As absurd as that sounds to some, it is true nonetheless. This mindset is the fruit of stockholder pressure for high dividends and is very shortsighted. This means that the employees must be proactive and invest their own money to get the training. This investment in one’s own skill set, then, is the individual’s property and not that of the company for whom they work. Consequently, it is theirs to take with them to another company without compunction towards loyalty to their present employer. Companies are seldom loyal to their employees and what goes around comes around; neither are the employees loyal to the company. I must mention that I have worked for companies that are very loyal to their employees, and as a result, the turn around is very small, and most who leave eventually ask to come back.

I personally have spent thousands of dollars out of my own pocket to gain the knowledge that I needed to do what I wanted to do. I wait for no one, and it has paid off tenfold. Back when $16K was a decent annual income, I quit the path that I was on to reposition myself in the job market. The following year my income was less than $8K, half of the previous year. I sought out every possible opportunity to learn the skills required of my new target and a year later, my annual income was $32K. I was to do that again 5 or 6 years later and my income jumped to $60K. I am on my fourth career. Can anyone do that? If I could do it, anyone can do it. Given that you have an interest and believe that you can do it, there are only two factors that will stop you, debt and comfort.

Debt means selling your future for the present wants. Getting out of debt means buying the future back by abstaining from the wants of this moment. Debt means that you have to work overtime and does not allow evenings and weekends for class and study. I do not care who you are, get out of debt immediately and you will never be sorry. Debt free atmosphere is must fresher and less toxic.

Comfort and fear of change may be synonymous. I am still pondering that one. Let me give you an example of being afraid of letting go of what you have in your hands today. It is said that there is a method of capturing monkeys using this fear. The captor either finds a hole in a tree trunk or carves a hole that is just large enough into which a monkey can squeeze its hand. The interior of the hole is enlarged, but not the opening, to allow a little more interior space. The captor places a few tasty morsels or seeds into the interior of the hole, then sits back and waits. Along comes the un-suspecting monkey, who discovers the treat, much to its delight, and squeezes its hand into the hole. Once it has its hand into the larger interior chamber, it can grasp the treat to extract it. To the monkey’s surprise, it  cannot remove its hand without releasing the newly discovered treasure. A smart monkey might even release the treasure, extract its hand and study the matter, but eventually it will stick its hand back into the hole and again struggle with the smaller opening. Once the monkey gets determined that it is going to get out the treats one way or the other, the captor shows up, the monkey screams and pulls all the harder, but it will not let go of what it has for something better… freedom. You must be willing to let go of what you have to gain something better.

Adults usually have a life of some sort and cannot adjust it to accommodate the convenience of educational institutions. These institutions have convenienced the adjunct faculty that typically deliver these evening courses on industrial automation. This creates a two-fold barrier between the adult learner and the learning resource. There are some that can adjust their evenings to include these adult education courses that will build their skill set for the workplace. However, the pace of these courses never fits more than 20-30% of the learners… too fast, too slow or too much time between classes. For these learners, they will find their training on the world wide web, or the internet as some refer to it. There is no end to what you can learn from websites. There are three important things that you need in a classroom, virtual or otherwise: lectures, exercises and discussions. The lectures as video segments, an exercise document, and a forum/blog for discussion provide the complete learning environment.

There you have it… interest, inspiration, self determination, basic learning tools and opportunity!!!

Where can you contribute in this process? Where are you in this process?

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