When I came to Plant Engineering as an associate editor in 1969, I didn’t know what plant engineering was. I just had an idea that I wanted to be a writer or journalist in some technical area. Plant Engineering seemed a good place to start.
Armed with a degree in technical journalism, a minor in chemistry, and two years’ experience as a Navy engineering officer, I dove into my new occupation with the enthusiasm of youth and a lot of idealistic notions.
I soon learned that I had a lot in common with the industrial plant engineers I came to know. None of them had ever set out to become plant engineers. I remember one telling me his story: The plant manager called him into the office one day and announced, “My plant engineer has just resigned. I need a new one. You’re it.”
Years later, I would participate in a parallel event when the publisher called a staff meeting and announced that I was the new editor of PLANT ENGINEERING — no warning, no asking if I wanted the job. I did, of course. But it was a shock nevertheless. My predecessor Leo Spector stayed on for a couple of years as executive editor, for which I was grateful. Now, it’s my turn.
On December 31, I stepped down as editor of PLANT ENGINEERING. I will continue to work with the magazine, but much more in the background, working on some special projects and generally ensuring a smooth transition to my replacement, Bob Vavra.
Bob has more than 25 yr experience in publishing and editorial management. He comes directly to us from the National Safety Council, where he was chief editor of Safety+Health magazine and a number of other NSC communications activities. Bob brings with him a lot of knowledge, great enthusiasm, and a number of ideas for moving PLANT ENGINEERING forward both in print and electronically.
I cannot let this event pass without some reflection. Over the years, I’ve pursued several overall goals. First and foremost has been to publish a magazine that is useful to you in helping you solve your everyday problems as plant engineers. That was the original intent of PLANT ENGINEERING, and we have stuck to it — successfully, I think.
Another goal has been to raise the recognition and prestige of the industrial plant engineering function. With your help, we have made progress, but not to the extent I wished. I will continue with this personal quest. One objective in this regard is to get plant engineering listed as a recognized vocation in the U.S. Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Standard Occupational Classification System.
Plant engineering is a branch of engineering that draws on all other engineering disciplines to create a distinct occupation. It requires a working knowledge of mechanical, electrical, electronic, civil, structural, and environmental engineering at the least. In addition, there are numerous legal, contractual, financial, and managerial aspects. It deserves its own occupational code.
The next revision to the Standard Occupational Classification System is scheduled to begin in 2005. You can help the addition of plant engineering to come about by communicating with the Bureau of Labor Statistics at firstname.lastname@example.org . To learn more, visit www.bls.gov/soc/ . You can also help by encouraging the professional organizations to which you belong to put this on their agendas for the years ahead.
Along with occupational recognition by the government, we need to build recognition in the academic sector. This is a more difficult task. Industry needs college graduates who are primed for careers in plant engineering and maintenance. Less than 15% of plant engineers are under the age of 35. While this fact is testament to the broad range of knowledge and experience needed for such a challenging job, the fact is that a full curriculum to prepare students to enter the field is nonexistent. You can do your company, and industry in general, a service by introducing high school and college instructors to the advantages and satisfactions of a career in plant engineering.
Yet another goal is to establish a library of plant engineering and maintenance benchmarking data to help plant engineers in their pursuit of excellence. Data analysis is only part of the effort, of course, but it is useful. And today the data is hard to obtain, if it can be had at all.
A major problem in this regard is that too many plant engineers are saddled with company policies prohibiting them from sharing sensitive data about plant operations. While there are good reasons for such concerns, in my experience they are overprotective. First, there are ways to ensure confidentiality. Second, those plant engineers who have found ways to compare notes with peers have found that the benefits far outweigh the risks. You can help yourself and your profession by participating in benchmarking activities and by lobbying your management to recognize the value of that participation.
In a related vein, I have watched with dismay the decline of membership in professional associations. Many of these associations have only themselves to blame. Too often, they have strayed from the activities that make them truly valuable to their members. Usually, it is the lack of meaningful participation by the members themselves that lies at the heart of the problem. But I remain convinced that much good can come from people of like minds joining together for a common purpose. You can benefit personally and professionally by being active in organizations of your peers. I can speak from experience, and I highly recommend it.
At the very least, do some networking with other plants in your geographic area and/or industry. You will find the mutual support rewarding in many ways.
I would be remiss in vacating this “bully pulpit” if I did not express my thanks to the thousands who have helped and guided me along the way.
I am indebted to every past and present member of the PLANT ENGINEERING staff it has been my honor to work with and whose shoulders I have ridden upon.
Obviously, I cannot name everyone to whom I’m indebted, or thank them personally, but among those who have influenced me most are:
Tom Hanson, Vern Kempf, Leo Spector, Ron Holzhauer, Ed Palko, Ted Meinhold, Terry Wireman, Mark Goldstein, Keith Mobley, Bob Williamson, John Blumenshine, Joe Greil, Wayne Weaver, Bob Schmalbach, Ed Mayer, Tom Williams, and many, many others.
And most of all, thanks to you our readers and to our advertisers, whose support for the magazine and the function it serves has made all the difference.
And so, we move into the next phase. I am entering a new relationship with the magazine and with you. Publications will change, and we will become more dependent on electronic media for our information. But in whatever form or format, rest assured that PLANT ENGINEERING will continue to be “the problem-solving resource for plant engineers.”