Fixing the Future: Adapting Skills to Emerging Technologies in Automation

Fixing the Future: Adapting Skills to Emerging Technologies in Automation

April 25, 2024

There is no doubt that there is ample opportunity in the automation space. However, the growing number of jobs and the proliferation of automation tech can be a double-edged sword. In the face of such opportunity how does an automation technician stay abreast of all the changes?

To be sure, being part of a growing industry is a positive thing, but keeping your skill set current and adaptable to new opportunities will take a concerted effort. Let’s take a look at a few strategies that you, as an automation technician, can leverage to increase your adaptability to emerging technologies.

New skill, upskill and reskill concept

Growth Trend in Automation Adoption

You don’t have to be an economist, industry insider, or business savant to know that when it comes to automation technologies, we’re well within a booming growth phase. Though the economic news of late has been arguably more sour than sweet, the same cannot be said for the economy when viewed through an automation lens. For example, Fortune Business Insights posits a global industrial automation market growth projection from $205.86 billion (US) in 2022 to $395.09 billion (US) by 2029 while exhibiting a compound annual growth rate of nearly 10% during that same period. This business publication is not alone – many independent market analyses have come to the same conclusion; that, simply put, automation technologies and automation adoption are growing at an aggressive pace. But what are some of the factors that are driving this growth?

While a growing demand for lower manufacturing costs is a seemingly universal economic force, that force alone is not enough to drive the automation boom. After all, there are many ways in which a manufacturer can reduce their overhead. However, if you combine lower manufacturing costs with other factors like improved product quality and higher yields, we begin to see just how vital automation is to achieve a level of manufacturing previously unseen. Looking beyond cost and quality, the process control and the reduction of manufacturing lead times are two additional factors driving growth. Having the ability to quickly alter process controls to take advantage of changes in the market has enormous upside potential to a manufacturer. Conversely, a manufacturer who cannot adapt quickly and requires more lead time than the next company will not be able to pivot as effortlessly and thus may not reap the same financial rewards.  

Augmented Reality and other digital technologies are improving the manner in which products are developed and vital in analyzing how new industrial components will work in real-world environments. These technologies expedite all phases of the design processes up to and including implementation. Ancillary technologies like the Internet of Things facilitate the collection of raw, aggregate data that can be used to develop efficiencies, identify redundancies, and facilitate preventative maintenance activities.   

What You Can Do to Remain in the Know

While there is no “golden rule” guaranteed to help you keep your skills up to date, there are some sound, easy to follow strategies that you can follow.

Follow Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in your field of interest. If you have to stay current in your field, there is no better resource than those who have the experience and knowledge you hope to one day have. Many experts write for industrial publications, produce podcasts, speak at forums/events and some even produce their own webinars. Not only can these experts provide valuable insight that you can use, but they can also point you towards additional resources. Some may even encourage engagement through social media or other platforms where you can ask questions and build rapport.

Challenge your current knowledge. Experiment with new tools – both digital and physical – to create familiarity. Digital tools in particular are a great way to practice building autonomous processes and tasks. If you don’t have much experience writing code, that’s not a problem; there are user-friendly platforms that use little to no coding. While these programs will teach you the basics, they are somewhat limited in terms of features and flexibility. When you’re ready, consider exploring more advanced, feature-rich tools to broaden your process automation skills.  

Be open to different sources of information. Remember to keep an open mind about how a minimal time investment today can pave the way to significant opportunities tomorrow. If you want to take your skill advancement to the next level, there are many different online courses, tutorials, and certifications that you can set your sights on. Best part of these types of resources is that they tend to provide quantitative benefits upon completion.

Embrace the cliché and network yourself. Networking is an activity that is not for everyone, but if you want to make sure that your skill set continues to grow in the right direction, joining a professional organization that allows you to meet and mingle with like-minded professionals can really help to guide your career in ways you may not have considered. Many associations, though they do require a fee to join, provide access to publications, events (both social and professional), courses, webinars, and much more.

Challenges You May Encounter

As you seek to adapt your skills to an ever-changing technological landscape, it is inevitable that you will encounter some roadblocks. Consider the following challenges and how you might overcome them on your journey.

Challenge 1. Rapid Technological Advancements. If you work in a tech-related field, this challenge will not come as a surprise. Chances are you’ve already heard tales from professors and/or co-workers about how quickly things can change. It is completely understandable that the speed at which technology evolves can be overwhelming. The near-constant unveiling of new tools, methodologies, and frameworks, while good for growth, makes it very challenging to stay abreast. What you’ll want to do is prioritize learning about the changes that will directly impact your field. Sleuth out the foundational concept/need that ushered the change and start there. Avoid getting distracted by tangentially related topics. Lastly, make sure that you schedule recurring time periods that you can devote to learning about technological advancements.

Challenge 2. Limited Resources. In a perfect world, nothing would be off the table. The reality is that everyone faces a scarcity of resources, whether that resource is time or money. Sometimes the course you’re interested in is already at capacity. If you’re having trouble finding free or affordable courses or courses that you can take around a busy work schedule, consider speaking to your employer; they may have a program that will provide financial assistance for professional development or allow you to devote some of your work hours to completing an online course.

Challenge 3. Some knowledge has a shelf life. Technology is fickle and obsolescence is just part and parcel of the industry. That said, the idea that your hard-fought skillset may no longer be useful one day is sobering, to say the least. Try to remember that by embracing a growth mindset you will begin to prioritize adaptability. Eventually, adaptability will become something you consider often in your professional life. A good exercise to gauge your adaptability to change is to periodically assess your skill set and measure it against opportunities in your industry. If there is a skills gap, it will be much more manageable to address sooner than later.  

Adapting Skills is a Worthwhile Endeavour

Being a part of a growing industry is a good problem to have, but making sure you and your skills are poised for change can be a daunting task. While there are many sound strategies that you can employ to ensure your skills remain adaptable to changes in your industry, arguably the best is to keep an open mind, and to embrace the unknown. If you’re interested in developing those skills and the others you’ll need to be successful as an automation technician, consider looking into George Brown College’s Automation Technician Program

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