The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) hosted a conference, Zero to Hero: Standards Know-How Isn't Just for Nerds, during World Standards Week 2016, which focused on ways that educators, companies, and emerging professionals can ensure that the U.S. has a standards-savvy workforce. The event united over 125 registrants representing companies, educators, and emerging professionals to share perspectives, understand the challenges of other stakeholders, and identify ways in which the broader U.S. standardization community can take action to engage and prepare top talent.
ANSI president and CEO S. Joe Bhatia provided opening remarks, emphasizing how cross-sector collaboration can position emerging professionals as leaders in standardization. "We need new faces, new participants, new strategies, and techniques to get the next generation of stakeholders and emerging professionals in standardization work," he said, noting that ANSI is focused on helping members understand how to drive engagement among the newest workforce.
The Digital Economy and a Standards-Savvy Workforce
During his keynote address, Kenneth Hyatt, Acting Under Secretary for International Trade, U.S. Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration (ITA), explained that during his seven years with the department, he has recognized the importance of standards and how they can protect consumers connected to the emerging digital economy, especially as certain sectors such as manufacturing shift business structures to digital operations.
As an example of digitization impact, Mr. Hyatt referenced how artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing everything from the automotive industry to medicine. He observed that as digitization transforms the way companies manufacture, businesses will need a skilled workforce to keep up with data flow, and to support important data analytics as the digitization of manufacturing evolves. "It is my view that standards need to be more responsive, timely, and robust than ever before," Mr. Hyatt said.
He explained that the ITA is actively monitoring other countries involved in standardization and partnering with ANSI to ensure that U.S. companies are aware of and can participate in standards development work to protect their market access. He also noted that for standards development to be truly inclusive, it must reflect the interests of a broad scope of stakeholders, particularly emphasizing the importance of small and medium enterprises (SMEs). "We expect more SMEs to play a role in e-commerce," he said, noting that the ITA is knowledgeable on standards through initiatives through its "standards attache program," for example, which monitors emerging standards issues that have potential trade implications for U.S. industry and businesses.
He concluded by asking the audience what challenges or issues the Department of Commerce should focus on in order to help the standardization community's efforts now and in the future. ANSI encourages its members and stakeholders to submit their thoughts to ITA; ANSI will be preparing its own response in the coming weeks.
The Company Perspective: Finding and Training Top Standards Talent
The Company Perspective panel, moderated by Stephen K. Kwan of San Jose State University, focused on why companies are finding it difficult to recruit individuals with the necessary familiarity with standardization, and how to leverage standards as a viable and attractive option as a valuable workforce skill.
Speakers included panelists Suneeta Kudaravalli of Accenture, Jason Matusow of Microsoft, Dominique Taudin of United Technologies (UTC) Climate, Controls, and Security, and Tim West of Deere & Co.
Mr. Matusow noted that as a hiring manager for senior standards professionals at a company that values innovation, he's observed that the high-functioning standards professionals that support this mission best exhibit technical competence, cultural awareness, diplomatic skills, and good judgment. He also explained that while new graduates may not be the ideal standardization professionals right out of school, companies like his offer internal training and opportunities to build on experience.
Mr. Taudin explained his company manufactures regulated products and systems, which calls for technical skills, engineers, and experts in safety, but he also looks for employees who exhibit strong ethical skills—a core requirement of standardization professionals. To that end, he said, "We need people who have an understanding of how standards impact business," and explained that while it's not easy to find such talent, business professionals can embrace standards as a marketing tool to drive growth.
Mr. West shared that Deere provides training, but looks to platforms, recognition programs, and training resources to cultivate a strong talent pipeline. He noted that Deere has a core course for people joining standards safety groups to achieve a better understanding and appreciation of how standards are used in relation to their work.
The experts concluded that mentoring new talent by working directly with universities and establishing a formal standards program may be helpful to train top employees, and emphasized the need to engage students, who don't always see a direct career path through standards.
To help students get a clearer picture of the value of standardization and to drive enthusiasm around the big picture potential, the experts recommended incentives such as reward-based challenges and innovation competitions. One example of this is the ANSI and NIST international standards competition, which recently brought university teams together to develop a new, fictional globally relevant voluntary standard related to industrial communication systems during a simulated session during World Standards Week 2016.
The Educator Perspective: Top Skills for Success
Moderator Donald Deutsch of Oracle launched the Educator Perspective panel, which covered the types of standards-related curricula that are available, and education experts explained their top needs from the standards community and companies alike to support the creation of standards courses and programs.
Panelists included Nathalie Collautt of the Project Management Institute, Stephen Elliott of Purdue University, Angelo Lampousis of City College of the City University of New York (CUNY), and Peter Sunderland of the University of Maryland.
One of the top challenges that the standardization community faces is explaining to all stakeholders involved—from students to employees—the relevance of standards, according to Dr. Lampousis. Through his department at CCNY, he has successfully led efforts in integrating standards into the academic curriculum and encourages educator stakeholders to engage members of standards development organizations as guest lecturers in the development of their curriculums.
Panelists also noted that students and emerging professionals lack writing skills and that educators need to work more effectively to ensure that professionals have the top skills desired by the workforce.
On behalf of the standards community and ANSI, Mr. Bhatia asked what stakeholders can do to improve the educator task of prepping standards professionals, and experts indicated that more information, such as redline documents, "standards literature," and online resources such as ANSI's educational tools - www.standardslearn.org and www.ansi.org/students - are effective in preparing professors to demonstrate how standards relate to their subject/course.
The Emerging Professionals Perspective: Mentors Add Value
The final panel of the day united emerging professionals who spoke about how standards are integrated in their jobs and explained how they initially became involved in standards work. Moderated by Edward Mikoski of the Electronic Components Industry Association (ECIA), the panel reflected top standardization leaders: all panelists were winners of ANSI's Next Generation Award or have been selected as part of the USNC Young Professionals workshop.
Speakers included Megan Hayes of the Medical Imaging & Technology Association (MITA)/ National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), Joseph Spossey of Intertek Energy Services, and Matt Young of Salus Analytics.
The professionals indicated that they had both formal mentors (as part of their company) and informal mentoring through committee members, senior staff, etc., during their standards training and into their careers.
Mr. Spossey (an IEC Young Professional) explained that he had some standards knowledge through his alma mater Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT)'s test method education and cooperative education program, comparable to an internship. Mr. Young, a 2011 Next Generation Award recipient, said his introduction to standards was educational and through an independent research project with a corporate entity, where he learned about policies and regulations associated with standards. He added that the educational community may benefit from more free resources from the standardization community.
An audience member asked what the professionals learned most from their mentors, and Ms. Hayes (a 2010 Generation Award recipient) explained that the most important action that a new professional can take is volunteering. Mr. Young added that observing the landscape of organizations and their goals helped him better understand the connection to standardization work.
The panelists also emphasized that companies see value in employees who hold strong diplomacy and soft skills, and as Ms. Hayes explained, it may be effective for more companies to offer one-on-one training to provide guidance to their successors.
The conference concluded with a session led by Monte Bogatz, chair of the ANSI Committee on Education. Mr. Bogatz led the group in a discussion of what steps ANSI could take to meet some of the needs raised by companies, educators, and emerging professionals throughout the course of the day. Suggestions were made to consider revitalizing the University Outreach program, to develop more targeted training for emerging professionals, and to consider providing an "onboarding kit" for ANSI members to use with new hires.
For full Zero to Hero conference coverage, including the agenda, presentations, and photos, visit the event webpage.