In business, planning for what comes next is essential—but it’s definitely one of those things more easily said than done. There’s a trio of aspects necessary for planning to happen: vision, experience, and expert input, whether in-house or outsourced. Plenty of companies have vision—and many among that number have experience, at least when it comes to years in the field. Where some lack is in subject matter expertise, especially when trying to navigate automation and Industry 4.0. There’s no doubt the talent gap in automation has grown; however, not all hope is lost. It’s time to plan for your planning. Let us explain.
How Automation Acquired a Talent Gap
It can seem kind of counterintuitive: With all that technology affords us, how did we lose out on qualified talent to actually work it? We are, after all, in the midst of a technological boom, with all sorts of tech always within reach.
The answer is surprisingly simple. Talent is reaching retirement age, and not being adequately replenished at an equal rate. New college grads don’t have the on-the-job expertise needed—because they haven’t been in the workforce longer than a couple of years, tops.
The 2008 financial crisis and economic slump didn’t help things. Then-workforce bound grads likely didn’t receive the mentorship opportunities necessary to ensure senior-level expertise now.
But that’s not all. Demand, especially in sectors like energy and clean water, has been driven up in recent years. This has caused a heightened need for expertise that’s just not there yet. However, there is hope. New grads can become equipped with the expertise automation and Industry 4.0 calls for, if they start getting trained now.
Why It Matters to You
We’re betting you’ve experienced the talent gap first hand—like when scanning through a score of résumés, perhaps? We know what you may be thinking: Why does automation’s gap matter to me? Because control systems, with properly executed expertise, offer profitable dividends. These include a smarter workforce, cost-saving benefits, and reassured business continuity.
In all this, expertise is key. Especially given the automation big three: cybersecurity, network overload, and out-of-date technology.
The interconnectedness IIoT offers comes with boons—and banes. Cyber threats, especially in the form of ransomware, are a constant threat. And these aren’t the kind a regular IT security team can tackle. Industrial systems require proactive, well-crafted OT and control systems protection strategies in order to weather a cyber attack.
The second major hitch in automation is network overload. Some plants think investing in state-of-the-art PLCs will boost performance, but they’re not always addressing the real source of the bottleneck. A plant’s industrial network is like a pipeline; when loaded properly, data streams from device to device and machines run efficiently. However, a limited network is just that: limited. It won’t really matter how flashy your brand-new assets are. A network that’s not up to snuff won’t allow your system to truly show off its stuff.
Finally, out-of-date technology and control systems are the third hold-up, which can be closely linked to automation’s second. Downtime is often companies and plants’ worst enemy. And the clock to downtime is always ticking when it comes to outdated controls. Old automation assets cost in time, money, and expertise. Time to find experts and fix the issue, the cost of labor and replacement parts, and the need to find adequate expertise able to address any short- or long-term problems. Thankfully, obsolete tech is one of the few risks in automation you can actively minimize.
The talent gap, coupled with operational risks in abundance, makes a planned automation strategy a must. But this plan requires its own planning. We know it may seem redundant—but it’s beyond helpful.
If your business is growing, or you have plans to grow, we recommend preparing for expansion. Control systems should take growth expectations into account. We suggest setting spare capacity at 25% across the system. This includes PLC loading, HMI expansion, spare I/O, control panel space, network switches, and cable/conduit installation.
We also recommend performing upgrades over time, rather than trying to update everything wholesale. This allows for scope to remain manageable, timetable to be doable, and budget to stay affordable. Shameless plug: Revere’s FEED+ study allows you to scaffold full project scope—and chop it up into attainable chunks.
A final tip: choose an automation partner right from the start. If in-house isn’t really an option, outsourcing to a partner is something to heavily consider. And automation partnership is more than just a vendor-consumer transaction; it’s a relationship that can help you navigate through many projects and help you realize success.
Revere Control Systems would love to be your automation partner. We’ve been doing it for decades, and we love to help plants, facilities, and businesses meet their goals. A forward-thinking automation strategy is a must-have for modern producers. Let us help you develop it to deliver results in production and ROI. Contact us to get started and keep in the know by following our blog!