Marti Wendel, International Fluid Power Society
Marti Wendel, International Fluid Power Society

The fluid power industry is currently in need of professionals to invent new products, design efficient systems, maintain existing equipment, test components, sell products, teach, apply, research, troubleshoot, etc. So where are all the qualified job applicants? Maybe supply and demand isn’t broken, but it might have a glitch or two.

For many people working in the field of hydraulics and pneumatics, finding job candidates with experience has been a struggle of late, if not an outright lost cause. And if the supply of qualified applicants isn’t already lean enough, the prospects for the future are even less promising. A recent survey taken by the Fluid Power Journal reports that 47 percent of the people currently working in fluid power today are 46 years old or older, with less than 2 percent of the incoming workforce choosing this field. Of those surveyed, 16 percent have been in the industry over 31 years.1 With jobs in fluid power waiting to be filled, the question becomes how can the supply of qualified job seekers be increased?

Looking for qualified applicants

The logical place to look for young, well-trained job applicants has historically been colleges and universities. Unfortunately, due to already heavy curriculums, the fluid power content taught to a mechanical engineering student during his or her bachelor’s degree program is typically one class in Fluid Dynamics. It is assumed the graduate will learn how to apply hydraulics or pneumatics, if needed, from their future employer. This increases the time before a new hire can actually be productive and creates additional concerns when the onus of fluid power education is placed on the employer. The new hire does not bring with them the latest cutting-edge technologies that he or she might when freshly graduating from any other technical field. The graduate simply learns how this particular employer has always done things, which may not be the safest or best practice method. This is no criticism of the employer because, most likely, they too had on-the-job fluid power training.

Many associate programs and technical schools include a substantial amount of fluid power content. Unfortunately, the typical education requirement on a job application for most engineering-related positions on monster.com specifies a bachelor’s degree. Other industries that are populated with a mix of degreed engineers to self-taught professionals require certification to ensure anyone practicing in that discipline has the proper knowledge. In fact, an electrician or plumber is not legally allowed to perform any work on a commercial building without being state certified. In fluid power, a self-taught mechanic or technician may need to make adjustments, reroute plumbing or, heck, even totally repower any hydraulic or pneumatic system they have access to. Hydraulic and pneumatic systems have the potential, if used improperly or misapplied, to seriously damage property, injure personnel, and even cause the loss of life. But applied correctly, hydraulic and pneumatic systems also are fast, safe, flexible, and reliable, can provide overload protection, and are unmatched in power density (size-to-power ratio).

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To increase the supply of qualified fluid power professionals, employers need to encourage their employees and potential employees to be Fluid Power Certified. The International Fluid Power Society offers 13 distinct certifications for anyone who has completed technical training or is actively working in the fluid power industry. Through certification, a potential employer can be certain that the new employee will be well-versed in the best and safest practices of fluid power whether or not they hold a four-year degree.

Being certified

The International Fluid Power Society (IFPS) is a nonprofit organization that provides an objective evaluation of the individual’s skills, and is recognized throughout all industries that utilize fluid power. The skills required for the different certifications range from advanced system design and controls expertise to fabrication of hose and tube assemblies. The procedure used by IFPS to develop the certifications and tests has been approved by Committee ASC B93, accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). All certifications are reviewed every five years, sooner if deemed necessary by the IFPS board.

Like all proficiency certifications, the fluid power certification is owned by the person who earned it and travels with them from employer to employer.  Training employees and then potentially having them leave doesn’t sit well with many employers, but to raise the bar on the personnel working in this industry, proof of competency through certification should be a requirement.

Training

The material in the IFPS certification study manuals is based on industry standards and best practices and is an overview of the material that will be represented on the test. For those who already have a career in fluid power, continuing education opportunities are also available through IFPS, which can reveal new energy- and cost-saving techniques. A study conducted by Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the National Fluid Power Association in December of 2012 states that “… fluid power system efficiencies range from less than 9 percent to as high as 60 percent (depending on the application), with an average efficiency of 22 percent.”3 With all of the new energy-efficient technologies available to fluid power system designers, it seems inconceivable that we are still operating at merely 22 percent efficiency. The need to teach best practices and implement energy-saving concepts like load sense, pressure compensation, variable-speed drives, closed-loop feedback, etc. is essential to the growth of the fluid power industry.

Awareness

Yes, the task of training needs to be pushed back on to the colleges and universities, but this won’t happen soon enough to meet the current staffing demands. If in the future higher education institutions are able to integrate fluid power back into their curriculums, certification will still be needed. Well-trained, certified fluid power professionals can fill the supply side of the equation and ensure the implementation of efficient fluid power systems now and for years to come.

References

  1. “2013 Salary Survey Results,” Fluid Power Journal, May/June 2013.
  2. “Why Get Certified?” International Fluid Power Society, www.ifps.org.
  3. “Estimating the Impact (Energy Efficiency and Economics) of the U.S. Fluid Power Industry,” December 2012, Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

 

Marti Wendel, a Certified Fluid Power Engineer, is the sales manager for Curtiss-Wright Flow Control, Sprague Products in Brecksville, Ohio, a manufacturer of specialty high-pressure test pumps and boosters. She is currently the vice president of education for the International Fluid Power Society and is the Vice President elect of the IFPS Board of Directors for 2014. Marti is past president of the Fluid Power Educational Foundation, past president of her local Habitat for Humanity Affiliate, and currently a Tae Kwon Do instructor for the Christian Karate Academy. She graduated from Kent State University with her bachelor’s degree in Industrial Technology and has worked sales and engineering in the field of fluid power for 25 years for employers in both manufacturing and distribution.