By Melissa Boutwell
Just one year ago, there were 10,000 automation job vacancies in critical infrastructure industry sectors that needed to be filled nationwide.
That is a lot of jobs, right?
Unfortunately, today that number has jumped substantially. Our company’s research of job boards, government data, and hiring programs determined there are more than 13,000 job vacancies in automation roles available right now.
Again, 13,000 positions in our industry are open today. And many of them stay persistently open for six months or more.
Anyone in business understands this is unproductive and inefficient. Every open position means someone is working twice as hard to cover the shortfall or the work is just not getting done in a timely manner.
This situation is becoming devasting in facilities management departments of commercial, government, healthcare, and educational institutions, to name just a few.
And as companies continue to push their employees to do more, the main result is burnout and more open positions.
With such a shortfall, potential and current employees are asking for—and receiving—higher wages. The top talent understands they are in demand and can use that demand to their advantage.
One of the key reasons our labor pool is shrinking is because there has been a seismic shift in the automation workforce driven by three things:
1) Thirty-five percent of skilled workers in automation roles are rapidly reaching retirement age. These are automation specialists, control specialists, and integrated design specialists. This compares to only 25% in other workforce sectors. Many of our most skilled people are retiring.
2) There is a never-before-seen increase in automation use across the 16 critical infrastructure sectors tracked by the federal government’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). This means new automation jobs are being created because of onshoring of chip manufacturing, management of water and dams sectors, development of the energy sector with initiatives such as electrification and alternative energy, and so on.
3) The diversity of our workforce population has changed. The building automation industry has done a poor job of promoting itself as a great industry in which to thrive; only 3% of field automation technicians are female.
These issues were highlighted during AHR Expo 23 in Atlanta through various panel discussions addressing strategies for hiring smart in this challenging dynamic.
There are actions you can do immediately at your company to help you compete for career-seekers:
1. Begin a mentorship program. Mentorship is important. I have mentors. I’m sure most high-level executives have had mentors at some point. Having a mentorship program within your facilities management staff can help you transfer the hard-earned knowledge of your most senior workers to your up-and-coming staff. It will help you transfer knowledge before it walks out the door.
2. Intentionally look to diversify your workforce. Today, our industry’s workforce is only 3% women, but nationwide, women make up nearly half of all workers. Choose to mirror society as a whole. Today, look at your community’s demographics and determine ways to open up new pools of labor. Partner with your state’s Department of Labor, local colleges, and Veteran Affairs offices to expand your reach into the labor market.
3. Require technology vendors to provide solutions to reduce labor. Invite technology vendors to present how they can help you reduce maintenance time, service time, and your team’s time to use the vendors’ systems.
4. Embrace apprenticeship. Perhaps this is the most important action you can take. By offering a formal apprenticeship program, you’ll have employees who are incentivized to stay longer and—develop skills to be more productive while on the job. Apprenticeships are common for electrical or plumbing professions. You can take advantage of apprenticeships for automation roles as well.
Do your own homework on apprenticeships for automation roles. Then pick one and enroll one or two employees. In some states, such as Florida and Maryland, the Department of Labor can give you direction as well.
Automation Strategy and Performance is a workforce solutions company that has worked closely with the federal government and state Departments of Labor to create automation apprenticeships for operational technology roles. We’ve worked to have them accredited by these state and federal agencies so facility managers, mechanical engineering firms, OEMs, and system integrators who enroll employees in the seven apprenticeships have the assurance the programs meet the highest standards for competency achievement by their employees.
By taking those steps, you’ll make your company more attractive to potential workers and will create a business that is more effective and productive. These four things can help give you a competitive advantage, not just for employees, but for your building occupants and potential clients as well.
If it sounds overwhelming, seek out a workforce solutions partner, like Automation Strategy & Performance. We’re here to help you and would look forward to working together to ensure our industry can sustain itself through these workforce issues and continue our growth long into the future.
Boutwell, the CEO and founder of Automation Strategy & Performance. Her company specializes in training technicians for critical infrastructure automated systems.