Representatives of the Automation Federation (AF), Research Triangle Park, N.C., recently met with President Obama’s staff to help confront two serious threats to U.S. national security and economic growth — cyberattack and the lack of advanced manufacturing skills among American workers.

During late November and early December, a contingent of AF leaders and staff traveled to Washington to attend a series of meetings on cybersecurity with White House National Security experts and U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security personnel, and on American workforce development with officials from the DOE, Labor Dept., and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, an agency of the Commerce Dept. These meetings are the latest example of an ongoing collaboration between the AF and the federal government to formulate and support the passage of cybersecurity legislation through Congress, and to build the next generation of automation professionals critical to the future of advanced manufacturing.

“The Automation Federation is honored to have been asked by White House National Security staff and other government officials to assist in securing the nation’s critical infrastructure against cyberattacks,” says Leo Staples, Automation Federation Chair. “Through ISA, the founding organization of the Automation Federation, we have the expertise in automation and control systems security standards that can thwart cyberattack. And in helping to develop America’s workforce, we’re continuing to work with the federal government and educational leaders around the country to leverage the AF’s Automation Competency Model as the foundation for building a trained automation workforce.”

The Automation Competency Model, developed through a partnership with the Department of Labor, is a detailed framework that defines the specific industry, workplace, and academic competencies required to succeed in automation careers.

The risks of highly damaging cyberattacks on America’s infrastructure are real. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently warned that the U.S. is facing the possibility of a “cyber Pearl Harbor” that could dismantle the nation’s power grid, transportation and telecommunications systems, financial networks, and government functions.

U.S. defense and national security officials are increasingly concerned about aggressor nations or extremist groups using cyber tools to gain control of critical facilities, such as water treatment and power plants, to contaminate water supply and cause widespread power blackouts. Some serious international cyberattacks already have occurred. For example, in August a cyberattack on the state oil company Saudi Aramco infected and shut down more than 30,000 computers.

The National Security staff at the White House, on behalf of the President, is preparing an executive order to address the importance of protecting America’s infrastructure against cyberattacks. Government officials have expressed interest in implementing ISA99 Industrial Automation and Control Systems Security standards as part of a comprehensive cybersecurity effort.

Among the numerous cybersecurity meetings Staples and other AF leaders recently attended included conferences with:

  • The special assistant to the President on cybersecurity matters at the White House, who requested that the AF continue to work with administration officials as they move forward in addressing cybersecurity threats against industrial automation and control systems.
  • The deputy director and chief cybersecurity strategist within the Department of Homeland Security, who reiterated the relevance and value of ISA99 standards, and requested ongoing cybersecurity consultation with the AF during 2013.
  • Congressman David Price (D-NC) and Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) restated their support of the AF’s cybersecurity initiatives. Both legislators have led efforts in Congress to raise awareness of cyberattack risks, and to better protect the country’s automation and control systems.

With regard to workforce development, the U.S. has a considerable shortage of workers with the skills needed for advanced manufacturing jobs. According to a recent survey by Deloitte Consulting, nearly 600,000 manufacturing jobs remain unfilled because companies cannot find workers with the requisite skills for the positions, and 56% of manufacturers say the shortfall of available workers is worsening.

The AF is working with high schools, community colleges, and universities to develop the automation curriculum needed to teach the skills required in the fast-evolving world of advanced manufacturing. By encouraging interest among young people in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), the AF is helping to keep students in school and on strong career paths.

Among the numerous workforce development meetings AF officials recently attended in America’s capital included conferences with:

  • The executive director at the Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD), a non-profit consortium of electric natural gas and nuclear utilities and their associations. The meeting paved the way for establishing a partnership between the CEWD and AF.
  • The chief strategist of Workforce and Education within the Department of Energy, who expressed interest in developing a partnership with the AF on workforce development programs and training opportunities.
  • The chief manufacturing officer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the assistant to the President for Advanced Manufacturing at the White House. At the meeting, it was agreed that AF’s workforce development efforts should be part of the objectives of the federal government’s National Network of Manufacturing Innovation.
  • Representatives of the Department of Labor to consider new ways to promote the Automation Competency Model. Also at the meeting, both parties agreed on new collaborative and workforce development initiatives designed to improve student interest in STEM.
For more information, visit the Automation Federation and ISA websites.