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High Demands in Automation Technicians: Trends and Opportunities
Unless you’ve lived under a rock, you’re likely aware that many industries, especially manufacturing, increasingly rely on automation technologies. And while many workers fear the encroachment of automation on their livelihoods, the consensus is that automation will create new, lucrative roles for displaced workers to transition into. A technician will be needed for every robotic arm, light sensor, or system driven by automation to ensure things operate as they should.
In this article, we’ll explore the current and expected demand for automation technicians and some of the opportunities available to those who’ve chosen to pursue this exciting career.
It’s not often that you come across a field so filled with promise and opportunity. Finding a suitable workplace for many post-secondary graduates can be difficult for their skill sets. Fortunately, due to the in-demand nature of the industry, automation technicians are better positioned than most to avoid this issue. Of course, AT grads can expect to find roles in several apparent global manufacturing and service-based industries, including automotive, mining, and transportation. And while these sectors arguably command the bulk of automation technician openings, there is also growing demand in the production of pharmaceutical products, food and beverage processing, and power distribution. Suppose any of these sectors don’t speak to you. In that case, there are many ancillary roles that an automation technician is aptly skilled for, such as machine assembly, automation systems troubleshooting and integration, systems maintenance or support, robotic and automation systems programming, and much more.
While the work can be exceptionally technical, it doesn’t mean an engineering degree is required to participate in automation. This is perhaps due partly to the considerable demand employers place on these roles. Many vocational and technical schools have begun offering college-level programs designed to get graduates job ready promptly. Between the comparatively accelerated course material, the sheer number and breadth of opportunities, and a median starting salary ranging between $50,000 and $90,000, a career as an automation technician is indeed enticing.
As vital as it is to human survival, the field of agriculture is reaching a labor tipping point. Many of the current farm owners will be “aging out” in the next decade, leaving a considerable void in the number of people willing and able to produce the crops needed for human and animal consumption. Even on family farms, where land and knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation, the future is far from certain. Unfortunately, the problems faced by the agriculture sector are not limited to the increasing age of the average farmer; a growing global population is already straining the current system to collapse.
Dire as it might sound, many of the problems associated with agriculture and food scarcity can be resolved using automation technologies. Autonomous farming equipment, for example, can be used to perform fertilizing, planting, and harvesting activities with little to no human intervention. Crop monitoring, analysis, and irrigation systems can all be deployed to ensure a maximum, high-quality yield with minimal oversight. This is all to say that the agricultural industry represents a ripe opportunity for automation technicians, who would be integral to deploying and maintaining these systems.
Unlike the agriculture industry, pharmaceutical giants are not facing a labor crisis. However, AT still has ample opportunities to make its mark in this sector. Pharmaceuticals essentially design, test, and manufacture everything from cough medicine to life-saving drugs. These items are highly relied upon to improve everyone’s quality of life, so they must be manufactured to the highest and repeatable quality. Machines and autonomous robots perform all repetitive tasks up and down the assembly line, significantly reducing human contact, contamination, and errors. Thanks to further advancements in automation technologies, pharmaceutical companies have increased the speed and accuracy of processes throughout production, from mixing to filling to packaging. Like any other manufacturing facility that relies on autonomous robotics and systems, technicians must ensure equipment operates within highly specified tolerances. While this is true regardless of the industry, it is perhaps all the more critical when dealing with medications. A technician working in a pharmaceutical could expect to inspect, diagnose, and maintain the following equipment:
- Dryers and granulators
- Tablet compressors and coaters
- Sortation and conveyor systems
- High-speed bottle filling/capping
Food and Beverage
Food and beverage, like pharmaceuticals, require highly complex and sophisticated equipment to ensure not only consistency of product but safety as well. Fortunately, automation technologies can be leveraged to do just that. Like many other industries, raw materials, packaging, and finished products are constantly moved, stored, sorted, and picked. Each of these tasks must be completed quickly and with the greatest efficiency to maximize profit margins and to ensure product safety. Machines like automated and rail-guided vehicles (AGVs and RGVs, respectively), are used to autonomously transport products from one end of the facility to another. Many perishable raw materials must be stored in environmentally controlled storage areas and retrieved only when required. Vertical storage and automated picking systems provide a space-efficient method for ensuring proper rotation and mitigating spoilage. However, the automation technician is needed to ensure the technology is working as it should, as even one product recall can not only cost the company money but may pose a risk to the public.
Automation is Here to Stay, and the Opportunities Prove It
There is no denying that automation technologies are positioning themselves to be transformative forces in just about every industry one might hope to work in. Automation systems and processes bring ample opportunity with them despite what many people may think, particularly for the technicians that are tasked with maintaining these systems. As automation applications grow, so will opportunities for new and displaced workers. If you’re interested in a career as an automation technician, consider registering in George Brown College’s Automation Technician Certificate Program.