Matt Migliore

Last month at the Emerson Global Users Exchange in Nashville, Tenn., Steve Sonnenberg, president of Emerson Process Management, noted that, despite hiring more than 4,000 people worldwide during what he characterized as a strong year for Emerson, the company still had key positions that went unfilled due to a lack of qualified technical professionals to fill them. Meantime, Emerson is continuing to ramp up its “Human Centered Design” initiative, which aims not only to improve the usability of Emerson’s products, but also to help make key fluid handling tasks, among others, easier to perform.

After thinking on these two pieces of information for a few days, it occurred to me that the much-publicized mass exodus of hands-on technical knowhow we’ve all heard so much about in recent years may be more severe and long-lasting than I, for one, had originally thought. Sure, we all know that as the U.S. Baby Boom generation is retiring, engineering fields are losing valuable, experienced employees with years of on-the-job knowledge. However, I never considered the change in technological approach this generational shift would provoke and how it could potentially make the shortage in technical engineering knowhow a more permanent thing.

By this I mean, if the shortage of engineering talent has reached a point where technology manufacturers are designing their systems in — for lack of a better phrase — fool-proof fashion, then how can we expect our young engineers to learn how fluid handling systems really operate? Sure, manipulating systems from a control room or a computerized interface has been a reality for some time now, but if there were ever a problem beyond the purview of the technology in place, a facility could always turn to one of its more experienced team members to troubleshoot. Will this still be the case if our next generation of engineers is working primarily with plug-and-play systems in a “virtual” plant?

In my mind, this question points to an area of opportunity for young, enterprising engineers, but only if they are willing to seize it. Likewise, the opportunity exists for those organizations willing to invest not only in “fool-proof” technology, but in educating their employees. And by educating, I’m not talking about university engineering education, which tends to lean toward theory over real-world applications.

Rather, I’m referring to education at the hands of our senior engineers and technical professionals who can share those gems of wisdom that can only be gained from a life lived in a plant environment. Further highlighting the need for technical knowhow here in the United States, a recent report by CNBC noted that technology giant Siemens Corp., the U.S. arm of Germany’s Siemens AG, has over 3,000 jobs open across the United States. More than half of these unfilled positions require science, technology, engineering, and math-related skills. And the jobs are pretty high-paying, with a reported average potential salary of $89,000.

There is no shortage of training courses employees and employers can invest in that will provide an invaluable competitive advantage for both parties as we continue along this path toward process simplification. In fact, one of those courses is offered on a regular basis by Flow Control magazine, and it goes by the name of the Pump Guy Seminar. And we will be launching a flow measurement course, presented by regular Flow Control contributor David W. Spitzer, in June of 2012.

Sure, this is a bit of a self-serving plug for our seminar programs, but I wouldn’t be plugging them here if I didn’t believe in the value they provide. In any engineering field, you are what you know. Going forward, this statement figures to ring truer, as those “in the know” become fewer and fewer. Don’t let your company or your employees get left out.

– Matt Migliore, Executive Director of Content