The post-pandemic period has stimulated demand for automation, which is expected to grow even further in the long term due mainly to labour shortages and rising costs. Within this, the market for PLC programmers is projected to grow at an annual rate of 3,7% until 2024, with the global market value – which was USD 12.04 billion in 2021 – expected to reach USD 15.79 billion by 2027. The automation industry is moving towards a dramatic increase in productivity, driven by energy efficiency, high-quality engineering, a new generation of operator panels performing sophisticated machine visualisation tasks, and extremely stringent safety standards.
The demand for automation engineers and engineering programmers with real knowledge and experience has exceeded the quality market supply for decades. These professionals have become almost unobtainable to many market players in recent years. In the automation market, IT development has become a key point of growth – and even survival – so progress will only be possible if the essential skills required are available to the company.
Market changes: a new type of professional demand on the customer side
Competition in the automation market has intensified following the pandemic, as players with significant market shares focus on expanding their customer base and activities in new markets and countries. Increasing productivity has encouraged companies to engage in strategic cooperation, develop technology, and be highly mobile in how they organise their projects. In addition to the prevailing profit-driven mindset, these processes are also driven primarily by the forced international supply chain restructuring caused by the pandemic and the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This has led to a notable change in the demand for automation specialists.
The relationship of the employer-programmer dynamic has also changed. Instead of highly regulated employment contracts, both sides opt for self-employed programming specialists capable of solving the hectic nature of production cycles and rapid production line reorganisations. However, finding, recruiting, and motivating these people through the traditional HR-led process is becoming less and less feasible. As a result of the war recession caused by the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, people’s decision-making mechanisms have been dominated by financial considerations, the need to earn as much as possible, and the desire to retain mobility to change jobs or residences easily if necessary. These engineer-programmers are focused on maximising their income on the kind of work they want to perform, and their decisions are now based on preserving freedom and mobility rather than job security. Reconciling these objectives with the needs of profit-driven, price-sensitive companies in an increasingly competitive market requires a great deal of organisational work and a specialised professional body leasing service.
Market changes: new challenges for professionals
Along with the changes on the customer side, there have been significant changes in the mindsets of automation professionals in recent years. Yet these have been driven by generational rather than market policy pressures on companies, with factors such as the pandemic acting more as a catalyst.
Home office, more freedom, and work-life balance management became increasingly important in their lives, triggering a spontaneous self-employment process. Many people decided to set up their own businesses, first while still in “stable” jobs, which they later left after ensuring a higher-than-average income and standard of living for themselves and their families by selling their capacities on the market more and more effectively. This process has now merged with the approach of the most innovative companies in the automation market, which want to evolve with a focus on mobility. It has created an organic development process based on common interests, in which everything changes, with a continuous dialogue, so that both parties can be winners and share in the joint work. Of course, as with the launch of any new product or service, there are problems and difficulties on both sides, caused by tasks and workplaces that change often. For example, a project starting in Germany and then continuing in the US four weeks later. For the self-employed programmer, such challenges include immediate replacement due to illness or other unforeseen reasons, or working away from family and during the weekend. But there is also the significant, often unsolvable burden of taking out personal and property insurance due to strict liability rules on the client side (unsatisfactory performance, late delivery), or organising travel, accommodation, and boarding in far-off locations.
More and more people are looking for “independent experts” on the customer side of the automation market. There are already several initiatives to use a “human buffer” of independent experts, quasi-available at any time, from which a specialist can be hired for a specific period if necessary. There is already a concrete example in Europe, where NERDMATION provides a network of professionals in several countries, selected based on professional and motivational factors, and coordinated from a well-managed centre. The advantage of such a network is its ability to follow the changing needs of the customer’s market and to react quickly and flexibly to changes in production, which can give the company a significant competitive advantage. It is prepared to replace specialists absent from projects for any reason, and can provide the same level of professionalism within 48-72 hours. Outsourcing such a network also helps companies achieve cost efficiency, providing the now almost unattainable programming specialists for whom there is increasingly fierce competition in the market.