With the recent announcement from the German multi-national Siemens introducing a permanent change to working practices, allowing all employees to work from wherever they want for two or three days a week, it remains to be seen whether this will be a trend that sweeps across the engineering and manufacturing industries.
Having specialised in automation, controls and digitalisation recruitment for more than 10 years, I have seen first-hand how many of my systems integrator clients have struggled to find, attract and retain high quality Control Systems specialists, and this is not set to change with a significant shortage of these skills still prevalent in UK manufacturing.
One of the key barriers for many of my clients has been location, which can have a huge impact on recruiting control systems experts. So maybe the initiative from Siemens is a step towards a new model of working in the sector. Is it really feasible for an experienced professional to work autonomously from a home location to deliver automation and controls engineering?
WHAT DO THE ENGINEERS THINK?
Having posted this question to my network on Linked In recently, it appears from the response that not only is it possible, but it has been happening already, although employers have been slower to acknowledge this, with opportunities for remote working few and far between.
It seems that all those who replied feel that the coding, development and simulation activities can be done remotely very effectively, provided the technology is in place to remotely access the PLCs onsite for testing and monitoring purposes.
Commissioning seemed to provide a few more barriers, with some claiming it can be done entirely remotely without ever seeing the machines provided communication with the onsite commissioning engineers is good enough, whereas others think this part of the role is best done in person.
Some of the responses still saw the value in some face-to-face interaction and think the ideal scenario would be a blended model of working; those parts of the role that can be are completed remotely, with the specialist attending site for initial project launch, critical project management milestones, commissioning equipment etc.
ARE EMPLOYERS READY TO TAKE THE LEAP?
With Siemens leading the way, it does seem that there are businesses out there that are recognising the potential and benefits of accessing control systems skills remotely, but for the majority of our smaller SME clients, this is still a very alien concept.
Part of it comes down to confidence and trust. With little room for error on project timing, cost and quality measures, many SME leaders still feel that having the skills supervised and onsite is a less risky option. Also, smaller businesses may not have the capital to invest in the technologies to effectively support remote working.
That said, Siemens has only committed to remote working on a part time basis at the moment so it seems that the blended model will be the next step towards wider access to skills. My view is that if COVID-19 has done nothing else, it has proved that non-traditional working models can be implemented quickly and productively.
GET IN TOUCH
If you have an opinion you’d like to share on this, if you are looking for your next role in controls engineering or if you need to hire automation & controls specialists, get in touch with me here:
Paul Coates, 01926 963292, firstname.lastname@example.org