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The discussion couldn’t have been more interesting. On this Zoom call, I gathered panelists for a session on Robotics and Automation that we will be putting on at Process Expo on Thursday, November 4th at Chicago’s McCormick Place, discussing how we all currently see developments in the market. The interesting part of the conversation was that it quickly drifted away from equipment and automation and developed into a much deeper discussion of workforce issues. This discussion of automation wasn’t really about improving productivity and efficiency anymore. No, the industry seems to be going down the automation route out of necessity thanks to tighter demographics and competition for the same valuable talent from a whole host of other industries. One of the panelists expressed a common issue in their company, “we’re just not finding enough new workers to replace the ones who have left.” This problem seems to exist on all levels, entry level jobs through management, we’re all at risk of not being able to accomplish our mission if we can’t bring in good talent.

For year’s I’ve looked at this issue from the employer’s side. What can we do as a trade association to help our members hire and train that next generation? We’ve built the Food Industry Technician program that has already graduated several classes worth of qualified technicians for food manufacturers and their suppliers. We’ve launched a Job Board that targets companies within the food industry and the professionals that are hired by them. And we’ve launched an online training program for manufacturers that includes over 700 courses of technical and soft skills. And yet, the demographic wave of baby-boomer retirements that was already hitting us before the pandemic, has completely swamped these efforts. As such, FPSA will continue to look for new ways to attract good talent to the food industry. But that’s not where I’m going with this …

I just read a piece on Vox about recent college graduates and the challenge of getting their career started. I was drawn to this story as my son recently graduated college with a degree in marketing but has had trouble getting interviews. His internship last year was cancelled due to COVID and aside from some stray part-time jobs in high school, his resume is understandably brief. The author of the Vox piece included an interview of Julie, a recent graduate in Michigan with a degree in electrical engineering. As I read this piece, the information simply could not match up with the stories I’ve heard from the employer’s perspective. Young electrical engineer in the mid-west, and she can’t find a job? Clearly there is a disconnect. I’ve reached out to Julie to see if I might be able to link her up with one of the FPSA members in her area. I can’t imagine that any of them wouldn’t love to see her resume. But that’s just one case. We’ve got a long way to go to address this deficit.

In the meantime, FPSA with its Young Professional Group will continue to look for ways to attract more students in this direction. Maybe the next one in line should be the former marketing student in North Virginia!

Andy Drennan. FPSA SVP