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By Troy Riddle
In the world of automation and control there are many dangers, and also precautions to take that will avoid harm.

Yes, learning from books at the academic level is a good starting point, but the best way to truly learn is through hands on training. Book learning is solid, but actual hands on visual learning is the only way to go.

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If I was to describe an object made of steel that moves, and acts as a transporter to move power from the initiation point to the needed point, some potential answers could be gears, a driveshaft, or a cable. Yes, they could be potentially and arguably correct. But if I showed you the parts, and let you work with them you would understand I was talking about a bicycle chain. You can make assumptions, but having all the clues and visuals in front of you is important, so you are not guessing.

I am studying Instrumentation Technologies at Lee College in Baytown, Texas under the professional guidance of Richard Tunstall.

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In part of my studies, I am building a large vocabulary while training and I am finding one word that explains everything, “redundant.” This term can be expressed simply in numbers, 1+1=2 or more. Redundancy is the foundation of safety in automation today. Try building an interlock system without “redundant” inputs to the PLC. You can, but I don’t want to work with you if you do.

Our educators teach us the foundations of automation like a live zero in 4 mA or 3psi. But it is not the educator’s responsibility to teach us every “rule of thumb” that plants rely on to stay up and productive. This is the responsibility of the workforce and industry where these “rule of thumb” laws play out in real time. It s also impossible to build any curriculum for all applications since the many differing processes take many different actions.

But there is a way where management can take charge of the plant and surrounding community as well as enhancing the safety of the workers. Let me explain.

From a student perspective and an honest instructor’s testimony, right now there is no bridge for college/university students to cross that will lead them down the correct path needed to gain the experience the industry is lusting for: A competent technician.

It takes an apprenticeship program to create a technician. Craftsmen know this. Industry thinks that a miracle is going to happen and the student that has earned a degree, Master of all Instrumentation Knowledge, is going to appear and come in and take charge. Don’t hold your breath.

Let’s say some industry professionals would gather at a round table, and invite some government representatives to sit in with them. They could start the meeting off with the sentence “The world is addicted to, and dependent upon energy!” Then we can ask, “How can we supply that energy?” Now you’re talking the true language of government.

One of the first order’s of business would be to focus on President Obama’s STEM initiative started in 2009 and demand tax breaks or exemptions for placing college students into the workforce in industry under a work-study apprenticeship model. In November 2009, President Obama launched the “Educate to Innovate” campaign, a nationwide effort to help reach the administration’s goal of moving American students from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math achievement over the next decade.

This tax break incentive would automatically fill the present skills gap crisis, help fulfill the President’s STEM initiative, and get the desired 3-5 years training required for a bona fide apprenticeship desired by the automation industry.

That puts chief executives in a position to do his or her job by ordering managers and accountants to work together to garner even more tax benefits such as lean tuning, education, and reducing recidivism. The residual benefits bring a safer, more efficient, and educated young workforce that would bring a boost to the traditional American Pride.

So, why is it a soon to be industry professional named Troy Riddle, just explained how to avoid a recipe for work force disaster? How come a student can point out a plan that is easily attainable in making everyone safe, productive, and happy?
Troy Riddle is an Instrumentation Technologies major at Lee College in Baytown, Texas.

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