America Needs Apprentices

For mature markets with retiring “baby boomers“, how do we best facilitate the knowledge transfer to the next generation of instrumentation and automation professionals? Emerson’s Gary Mitchell, a Senior Life Sciences Industry Consultant, shares some of his career experiences, which included an apprenticeship program, as a potential solution.

Emerson's Gary MitchellThere’s a problem happening in the process industries—including pharmaceutical and biotech manufacturing—and it’s only going to get worse as engineers, technicians, and consultants age (believe me, I should know), it seems that there are few to replace them—so why doesn’t Industry in America hire more apprentices?

I grew up in the UK in the 70’s where it was the dream of most schoolboys to get selected by a local company for their apprenticeship program. This typically meant a four-year indenture (Wikipedia definition – an indenture is a legal contract between two parties, particularly for indentured labor or a term of apprenticeship).

Those 4 years would lead to training whilst being paid to learn a trade, such as an electrician, welder, mechanic, or as in my case, the highly sought instrument artificer (or skilled technician).

Instrumentation-and-Process-Control-Knowledge-SharingNot only were you trained in these fields, but also as you were also employed on a full-time basis, you were paid very well throughout the four years, which also included having all college costs covered.

You were expected to spend one day and an additional evening per week attending a local Technical College or University. As part of your contract, you had to maintain good grades. So after four years, you would become a qualified tradesman with a technical degree and the company that provided the apprenticeship had coverage for the future.

During my apprenticeship, I learned all about the basics of instrumentation and controls, such as pressure, level, flow and temperature measurement and control. From theory to getting hands-on experience of calibrating, installing, testing, commissioning and tuning instruments, controllers and final control elements (valves, etc.)

I’m now a great believer in this basic background knowledge and it has helped me tremendously throughout my career. Even today when our customers have problems with their facilities, it helps to be able to understand what’s going on out in the field when diagnosing issues in their control system.

A great example of a company putting this apprentice program into action is GSK with their announcement last November—GSK announces new apprentice and graduate engineering opportunities in the UK during Tomorrow’s Engineers Week.

These apprentice programs might be a great way to facilitate knowledge transfer to a new generation of process automation and instrumentation professionals and help defray the debt load many college students hold upon their graduation.

What do you think?

You can connect and interact with Gary and other Life Science professionals in the Life Sciences track of the Emerson Exchange 365 community.

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