Jim Barry, Michael Batchelor, TJ McDermott and Rick Rice—these are individuals you need to know. Four of the most expansive thinkers in the machine-building technology space, these engineering veterans comprise the Control Design Editorial Advisory Board.
As an introduction, they shared their thoughts on a variety of topics, from motion control and wireless sensing to control platforms and cybersecurity. Here is their take on the changing environment of the workforce.
CD: The often-discussed exodus of the Baby Boom generation from the workforce has finally hit full stride, with older, knowledgeable engineers retiring and being replaced by a far younger group. What measures do you have in place to preserve the expertise of those older workers, and how are you leveraging the new skill sets that Generation Y brings?
TJ McDermott: This state of affairs is not unique to the Baby Boomers. It happens whenever a person with years of time in at a company leaves. In the context of the question though, is the retirement of the Baby Boomers a knowledge loss? Without being offensive, is losing the knowledge of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” such a bad thing?
Additionally, the question implies that such a transition will be abrupt, that long-tenured engineers will be here one day, gone the next. The transition will be for the most part as gradual as it always has. The knowledge the Boomers has has been gradually passed to middle-level engineers, who will in turn become the senior lead engineers as those before them retire.
Rick Rice: The retirement of the Baby Boomers has presented a serious situation that all manufacturers face. I work for a food producer now, but my entire experience prior to joining this dynamic organization has been in the OEM/integrator field. The retirement of the generation, which included our parents, has impacted both builder and user in a similar manner.
Our predecessors didn’t have computers. They drew everything on a piece of paper, and their wealth of knowledge is trapped in their very capable minds. We don’t have the luxury of giving our pending retirees a year-long exit interview where we can download a lifetime of memories out of their collective minds. How do we maintain the past while we build to the future?
I have a vision of the future for my company, and I spend every working moment, and many of my home moments, thinking and planning the execution of that vision, but I came to an understanding, perhaps later than I should have. All of the new stuff we do is great, but what happens when the little grey box at the end of line stops working? Well, we dive into it with great enthusiasm, only to realize that we should have tried a little harder with the crusty old guy we replaced to make sure that we had a drawing or a program listing to go with that little grey box. Wouldn’t it be great to have that expert advice when the line is not producing and the owner of the company is looking to you to fix it right now?
Perhaps we missed the boat with the gentleman who I replaced, but we certainly have a different perspective with those who are still among us. Empires are truly built on the foundation of those who came before us. Our people really are our greatest resource, and we must always be looking to ways to creatively pass the torch. Job shadowing and mentoring programs are a great way to do this and factors into our initiatives with respect to curriculum development with the local community college.
Bring in graduates of a program that we helped to create, and pair them up with the grand masters of the universe, our senior technicians and engineers. Encourage the younger folks to use that new-fangled technology—computers and tablets—to document what they learn. In the end, you have people who are intimately familiar with your manufacturing process and equipment and a ready source of that information for future generations.
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