Discover how process automation can address the industry skills shortage in our latest blog by Niels Tiemessen.
We recently looked at the benefits provided by the introduction of process automation solutions into industrial wastewater treatment plants. In our latest blog, Niels Tiemessen, product expert and business developer at Royal HaskoningDHV, takes a look the role process automation can play in helping to tackle the industry skills shortage.
There is an aging population, and many experienced process operators are now reaching retirement age. This, coupled with low levels of interest in the profession, means that the process industry is experiencing a serious skills shortage, which is already introducing operational risks.
For example, on 1 January 2023, the Netherlands has a population of 3,601,167 inhabitants aged 65 years or older. That represents 20.2 percent of the total population, and the figure has increased: in 1990, only 12.8 percent of the inhabitants were 65 years or older. (source: CBS)
Process operators are in the top three of the most sought-after technician roles, after electrical, and measurement and control technicians. Biological processes can be unpredictable, which can make this type of technician role an unpopular career choice. The sector is looking at various incentives to encourage more people into the profession, with paid apprenticeships being the most common route into the industry. However, opportunities for paid work experience jobs and retraining programmes, along with a 100% job guarantee, through to getting your driver's license for free, are all available if you look for them.
Another trend is the outsourcing of wastewater and related processes to contractors that manage on-site facilities, although this has the potential to impose other risks. This type of outsourcing is also becoming increasingly common within municipal water companies.
The sector also needs to look at what it can do to attract more women into the workforce. It is still a heavily male-orientated environment, and according to Women for Water, globally only 17% of employees in the water sector are female. This will need to change if companies are going to achieve the recruitment rates that they are after.
The wider introduction of automation and digitalisation can help address these issues. Automation is changing the profession, but the people within it are also changing. New, younger operators are more likely to change companies or positions more often. One of the benefits of an automated process, is that as people move, the knowledge isn’t lost and the work is easier to transfer, as the important experiential knowledge is ingrained in the software.
A virtual operator, such as Twinn Aqua Suite, automates operations and can free up a lot of an operator’s time. It oversees the plant 24/7 and allows the operator to let go of the controls and focus on other work, such as maintenance and process improvements, meaning, if anything, that the role will become more skilled. However, it doesn’t do away with the role, as it if the process suddenly shows major deviations, then the operator needs to be able to step in and manually take control.
Click here to learn more about the benefits of automation at industrial wastewater treatments plants.