Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Celebration of young people’s interest in science and technology.


As strategic alliance partners of FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), the International Society of Automation (ISA) and its umbrella organization, the Automation Federation, took part in last week’s FIRST Championship, an annual international celebration of young people’s interest and participation in science and technology.

More than 18,000 students from around the globe, from ages 6 to 18, gathered 22-25 April in St. Louis, Missouri (USA), to put their engineering skills and scientific know-how to the test in four different age-specific, team-oriented FIRST programs. This year’s championship event drew more than 900 student teams from 40 countries around the world.  

An FRC team makes some final adjustments on
its robot before the competition last week.
A centerpiece of the four-day event was the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), which combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of designing and building robots. The competition provides students, from grades 9 through 12, with the opportunity to use sophisticated software and hardware, learn from professional engineers, collaborate, earn recognition, and qualify for millions of dollars in college scholarships. In all, more than 75,000 high school students, comprising more than 3,000 teams, participated in 56 FRC regional competitions.

In support of this year’s FIRST Championship, ISA and the Automation Federation hosted an informational exhibit where student competitors could learn about the automation profession and how to plan for careers in the field. 

This event continues to amaze me each and every time I go,” proclaimed Steven Pflantz, an electrical and automation engineer and ISA and Automation Federation leader who has now attended all five FIRST Championship events held in St. Louis. “The positive energy from all these kids having fun, being challenged and competing in this way is uplifting and awe inspiring. This is a remarkable and talented group of young people, and a lot of them are potential future automation professionals.”

Pflantz was among a select group of practicing automation professionals from the St. Louis area---volunteering on behalf of ISA and the Automation Federation—that met with FIRST competitors and their family members to answer questions about career opportunities in automation and engineering.

Joining Pflantz, an Associate at CRB Consulting Engineers, at the ISA/Automation Federation exhibit were: 
“All of us came away highly impressed with how many of these young people are already mapping out their future plans,” Pflantz reports. “Based on the positive energy they are generating and the commitment they are demonstrating, I feel there are no limits or boundaries these students cannot reach.”

In addition to inspiring STEM-centered creativity and inventiveness, Pflantz says FIRST competitions help cultivate the practical skills that are required to succeed in the workplace.
“It’s not all just about building robots,” he points out. “Because FIRST stresses the importance of planning, project management and collaboration, these young people are gaining vital real-world experiences they can put to use in their future careers.”

A positive job market for automation and engineering professionals
Career options are bright in engineering and automation because the demand for qualified employees in these fields far outstrips availability. In the US, the number of science and engineering jobs over the past decade has grown three times more quickly than jobs in other sectors. At the same time, colleges and universities aren’t producing enough graduates to fill the jobs. Just half of college students who start with a science- or math-related major graduate with this type of degree, according to a recent report from the US Department of Commerce.

By one estimate, the US alone will need more than 120 million workers with advanced manufacturing skills by 2020. At the current pace, America will prepare less than half of that number.
Pflantz emphasizes that more needs to be done to encourage STEM learning among young people and to expand awareness about careers in automation and engineering. “Automation and control professionals need to get the word out about the advantages of pursuing a career path in engineering and automation,” Pflantz declares. “As working professionals, we can play an important role in helping young people decide what to do, and make better decisions as well as providing mentorship during the initial phases of their careers.”

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