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What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

This post is authored by Robert Lindeman, President of ISA 2012

It’s a question we love to ask our kids and our grandkids – and sometimes, the answers we get will make us laugh for years. Sometimes, though, the answer provides a glimpse into a future that we can help that child build. Sometimes, it’s the glimmer of a passion, an aptitude – a career that they will someday be very proud to call their own. I believe that we have a responsibility to have those conversations with future generations, inside our families and in our communities, because sometimes, it’s the spark that lights a fire.

As automation professionals, engineers and technicians, we face a challenge. Our professions are hard to envision for kids (and let’s face it – for adults, too.) To us, engineering is anything but abstract – it’s concrete, it’s physical, it’s real – because we live it every day. Think back to being a kid, though, and the concept of “engineering” or “automation” was totally abstract, and probably not something that we really understood. It’s easy to picture a career as a police officer, a lawyer, a doctor – kids play those roles in games and watch those roles on television, even if they might not really grasp the hard reality of those careers.

This is a major cultural disconnect – we haven’t given our kids a way to understand what it means to be an engineer or a technician in automation. To me, that’s one of the biggest strides we can make as a society and one of the most important contributions we can make to the next generation: let them see who we are, and make words like “engineering” and “automation” more than abstract concepts. Let them feel it, touch it, work with it, and awaken their imagination so that someday, kids are “playing” engineering the way they “play” teacher or police officer.

John Engler, president of Business Roundtable and a former governor of Michigan, points out that even with unemployment at historically high levels, large numbers of jobs requiring an educational background in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are going unfilled.

These are not just jobs – they are jobs that pay very well. A report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce found that 65 percent of those with undergraduate degrees in STEM fields earn more than those with graduate degrees in non-STEM occupations. In fact, 47 percent of undergraduate degrees in STEM occupations earn more than doctoral degrees in non-STEM occupations.

As highlighted in his keynote address to Automation Week 2012 attendees in Orlando, Greg Hale, chief safety officer and vice president, worldwide standards and auditing with Walt Disney Parks & Resorts, emphasized the importance of innovation. We must make the most of the potential talent our young people possess.

It seems like such a huge problem to tackle. How could I, as a single person, possibly create that spirit in our culture? No one person could possibly make that kind of an impact, right? Wrong.

We have an outlet for changing kids’ lives. We have a proven method of getting kids interested and excited in math, science, and engineering. We have a way to engage them in hands-on, real world problem solving that transforms their minds and awakens their imaginations. It’s called FIRST®, and each one of us can get involved.

You’ve all heard about the FIRST® program by now, and you know that ISA and the Automation Federation are partnering with FIRST® to inspire the next generation, on child at a time. Chances are, you think to yourself, “what a great program, but…” and inevitably, something gets in the way of your personal involvement. Maybe you’re worried that you don’t have enough time. Did you know that FIRST® offers opportunities to volunteer for local and regional competitions on a single day or single weekend basis? Did you know that many FIRST® teams could benefit from a competition day troubleshooting resource or a mentor that concentrates on helping their team in th design phase during first few weeks of the season? Perhaps those opportunities will fit into your schedule better than a multi-month commitment to a local team. Many of you are probably also concerned about taking time away from your own families – have you considered getting your kids involved in a FIRST® team so that you can spend time with them, introduce them to your profession, and offer them a priceless educational experience all at once? Kids can join FIRST® teams from age 6 – 18.

No matter what volunteer roles you’re considering, I encourage you to explore the possibilities. Each one of you are so important to building this next generation, and as an organization, we can make such a positive impact with your help. Make it a point before the end of the year to talk with your local FIRST® team and look into the options for getting involved.

Someday, we’ll hear kids say “I want to be an automation professional when I grow up.”  Thank you, in advance, for your help in making that dream a reality.

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