Education and Training Requirements
In high school, take classes in physics, chemistry, mathematics (especially calculus), shop, and computer science (especially programming and computer-aided design). If your school offers courses in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), be sure to take those, too. Other recommended classes include English, speech, social studies, and foreign language.
You will need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in automation, process control, computer science, or electrical, mechanical, chemical, or computer engineering to become an automation engineer. Some employers seek candidates who have a bachelor’s degree in one of the aforementioned fields, as well as experience with manual and automated testing procedures. Typical class topics include robotics, electromechanics, fluid dynamics, process control, mechatronics, digital control systems, electromechanics, control electronics, computer-aided design, and artificial intelligence. Engineers who seek managerial and executive-level positions typically have master’s degrees in business management or engineering management.
Some people prepare for engineering careers by participating in apprenticeships or by receiving training in the military.
Automation engineering is an interdisciplinary field and, as such, engineers need a wide range of skills and knowledge based on their employer and job title. As a result, many aspiring and current engineers augment their training by participating in in-person and online certificate programs—which typically last from six months to a year. Certificate programs are offered by professional associations; for-profit, online learning providers; and colleges and universities. For example, the International Society of Automation offers the automation project management specialist certificate to applicants who complete a course and pass a multiple-choice exam. In the program, students learn how a variety of engineering disciplines (software, computer systems, networks, and instrumentation) are used in automation, new technologies, and other topics. Visit https://www.isa.org/certification/certificate-programs to learn more about the program.
Other Education or Training
Keeping your skills up to date and staying aware of industry trends are key to success as an automation engineer. Professional associations often provide continuing education (CE) opportunities such as in-person classes, presentations and workshops at industry conferences, and webinars. For example, the Association for Advancing Automation offers CE opportunities at its conferences as well as webinars such as Technologies Used in Automation: How to Get Started; Putting Motion Control to Work in Your Production; Collaboration and Robotics: The Latest Solutions; and Smart Automation: How AI is Changing Industry Today. The IEEE Robotics and Automation Society, International Society of Automation, and other associations also provide professional development classes, webinars, and other educational options. Contact these organizations for more information.
Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements
Certification or Licensing
Several professional associations provide certification programs for automation engineers. Becoming certified shows employers that you’ve met high standards established by your industry, and certified engineers often earn higher salaries and have better employment prospects than those who are not certified. The International Society of Automation (ISA) offers the certified automation professional credential to automation professionals who work in process automation and manufacturing automation. Applicants must meet education and work experience requirements, pass an examination, and commit to the ISA Code of Ethics. Visit https://www.isa.org/certification/cap for more information. Other certification credentials are offered by the American Software Testing Qualifications Board (ITSQB test automation engineer), International Institute for Software Testing (certified software test automation specialist, certified software test automation architect), Society of Manufacturing Engineers (certified manufacturing engineer, certified additive manufacturing-fundamentals, and Lean certification) and the Association for Advancing Automation (robot integrator, certified vision professional, certified vision system integrator, certified motion control professional).
Any engineer whose work may affect the life, health, or safety of the public must be registered must be licensed. Licensed engineers are known as professional engineers (PE). To qualify for a license, one must have a bachelor’s degree from a school accredited by ABET, the accrediting board for engineering and technology; four years' relevant work experience; and pass a state examination. New engineers may qualify for licensing in two stages. First, they may take the Fundamentals in Engineering examination after graduating from college. They are then considered engineers in training (EIT) or engineer interns (EI). Once they achieve the work experience requirement, an EIT or EI then takes the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. There are more than 15 specialty exams, including those in control systems, industrial and systems, and mechanical. The exams are offered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (https://ncees.org/engineering).
Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits
College engineering students often obtain additional experience by participating in internships or cooperative education opportunities or by working part-time at an engineering firm or other employer. Apprentices obtain both hands-on experience and classroom training while participating in the program.
Automation engineers should have strong programming skills in languages such as C#, Java, and SQL (but the preferred programming language varies by industry); knowledge of automation testing software; experience using Agile frameworks and DevOps; and familiarity with cloud computing, artificial intelligence (including machine learning), advanced robotics, and other current or emerging technologies, among other technical skills.
Strong interpersonal and communication skills are important for success in this career. Engineers who work in manufacturing must be able to work effectively with machinery operators, who are most familiar with the equipment because they oversee it every day. Those in other settings must be able to work well with software developers, customer support specialists, and other professionals to improve existing processes. Strong writing and presentation skills are key because engineers frequently write reports and e-mails and explain their ideas regarding current and future projects to colleagues, company executives, and current and potential clients. Other important traits include:
- Organizational skills to manage and prioritize one’s assignments and maintain documentation of one’s work
- Creativity and curiosity
- Flexibility and adaptability because project parameters change frequently
- Strong troubleshooting and problem-solving skills and a detail-oriented personality in order to effectively debug or troubleshoot a system
- An analytical personality in order to assess what’s worth automating and what is not, as well as to solve complex problems
- An ability to work both independently, when necessary, and with a group of engineers, technicians, operators, and others on large projects
- A commitment to pursue continuous learning because automation technology is advancing so quickly.