Automation gets a bad rap from many quarters. Politicians blame automation for the loss of manufacturing jobs, parents discourage their children from careers in dirty professions like engineering and automation, as they believe there are limited prospects for progression.
Yet, at the same time, everyone benefits from automation. Automation ensures essential services such as the provision of clean drinking water and electricity can be provided safely and cheaply. Automation ensures the traffic flows on our roads, and our airplanes can take off and land with minimal interaction from pilots. Automation ensures food and pharmaceuticals can be produced and distributed safely.
The automation profession has an incredibly diverse range of roles. Technicians and operators with associate degrees are responsible for operating and maintaining the automation systems needed to run facilities as diverse as a nuclear power station or an Amazon distribution center. Engineers with degrees or PhDs design the automation systems and processes needed, and this can involve complex math and physics, along with domain specifics such as chemistry. Vendors develop solutions based on the latest technology then sell and maintain these systems. Consultants provide specialist knowledge and advice on subjects such as cybersecurity.
Automation professionals use the most advanced technologies in the world to ensure reliable and safe operations—from virtual server environments running control systems to the use of augmented reality to help with design, construction, and maintenance activities.
The US Department of Labor’s Automation Competency Model (ACM) defines the key skills, knowledge, and abilities that automation professionals need from entry level to advanced career level. This is updated regularly to ensure that emerging technologies are included, recognizing that the automation profession is constantly evolving.
The International Society of Automation (ISA) is a professional society representing the automation profession and is an ANSI accredited Standards Development Organization that produces key guidance for the profession for topics such as wireless communications and process control. ISA develops training curricula to meet the needs of the automation profession, aligning with the ACM, as well as with working groups formed out of industry and academia. ISA offers certifications for technician and engineer level roles (Certified Control Systems Technician and Certified Automation Professional respectively), as well as certificate programs in functional safety and cybersecurity.
These certifications and certificate programs provide a means for assessing the competence of individuals in a profession where such competence is critical to the safety of people and the well-being of the environment.
Despite its bad rap, automation is an exciting and rewarding profession—one that gives individuals the opportunity to use their technical skills to make the world a better place.