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Skill Sets Needed for Industrial Automation Careers

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session II

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Sheng-Jen Hsieh Texas A&M University

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Dr. Sheng-Jen (“Tony”) Hsieh is a Professor in the Dwight Look College of Engineering at Texas A&M University. He holds a joint appointment with the Department of Engineering Technology and the Department of Mechanical Engineering. His research interests include engineering education, cognitive task analysis, automation, robotics and control, intelligent manufacturing system design, and micro/nano manufacturing. He is also the Director of the Rockwell Automation laboratory at Texas A&M University, a state-of-the-art facility for education and research in the areas of automation, control, and automated system integration.

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This paper reports findings from a survey of industry partners of three two-year colleges located in Texas. The objective of this survey was to assess workforce needs and skill sets in the area of industrial automation. Of the 103 industry participants, 78 responded that their companies employ technicians or engineers who maintain automated manufacturing systems as part of their job. The majority of these 78 participants (about 88%) indicated that their primary market segment/industry includes one of the following: Oil & gas, Automotive, Semiconductor & electronics, Energy storage and distribution, Metals, or Machine builder. Almost half (47%) indicated that their job level was manager or above; the rest were primarily either engineers or technicians.

Participants were then asked to rate the importance of specific competencies within four areas related to industrial automation: electrical and electronic components and systems; operation and control of automated systems; maintenance and repair of electrical/electronics equipment; and maintenance and repair of mechanical equipment. The competencies were selected based on a review of syllabi used in teaching industrial automation subjects. Participants were asked to rate each competency as not important, somewhat important, important, or very important.

Participants were also asked to list the most pressing challenges being faced by their companies. Inability to find/hire enough skilled entry-level employees was a very strong and common theme. Finally, participants were asked to identify skill sets or knowledge they wish new technicians or engineers had that they don't currently have. Some commonly mentioned needs included hands-on experience, communication skills, PLC-related knowledge and skills, and troubleshooting.

The survey data were analyzed both in aggregate and broken down by the industry partners associated with each two-year college. The two-year colleges have used the survey results to come up with action items, such as curriculum changes and development of instructional materials and technologies.

Hsieh, S. (2016, June), Skill Sets Needed for Industrial Automation Careers Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25813

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