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This is a talking point for me every time a new role comes in for a multi-skilled engineer. A topic that really divides opinion amongst many of my highly experienced clients and candidates.

Of course, it is a desirable skill set for any company to acquire and is the ambition of many engineers to boldly lay claim to within their CV. The ability to pick up a laptop, interrogate and amend complex PLC code is not something many engineers are able to do. It also raises the profile of said individual immensely, amongst their peers and management team.

In this post, I wish to raise the questions:

Why is this skill set in such high demand?

Why is this part of every job spec posted online?

Why are candidates expected to wield such a hard to obtain skill set?

To answer these questions, I think it is only fair to look at this from all points of view. That being of the candidate, the client and also the recruiter.

As a candidate, it is commonplace to read within most multi-skilled job adverts:

“this role requires a strong working knowledge of PLC’s, including fault finding and interrogation”. Or other requirements like “Experience of working with Allen Bradley, Siemens PLC’s is essential”.

With this being a key requirement all too often, it is understandable when candidates list this within their own CV.

In my personal experience, what can often be found after further interviewing and questioning, is that the skill listed as PLC knowledge in fact refers to working within an environment that were ran by PLC’s, as opposed to actual working knowledge of how they work and how to fault find should an issue arise.

Candidates who actually possess that advanced PLC skill-set, often are in very high demand and have their pick of the bunch when they’re active on the market.

Understandably, this can be frustrating for clients, however I would counter that frustration with the very same question listed above: Why are candidates expected to wield such a hard to obtain skill-set?

Why is this skill-set hard to obtain?

Put simply – Those within engineering will know how rarely a PLC actually breaks down or has a fault of any kind. The more skilled and knowledgeable engineers will know that the issue will more often be with a sensor or some form of input into the PLC. The summons of the PLC expert to grace us all with their divine presence, is often unnecessary. With the frequency of fault in mind, it therefore is also an extremely difficult knowledge-set to maintain, as there is rarely an opportunity to keep this skill alive.

With awareness of how often a PLC actually has an issue that requires laptop intervention, the question above comes back to the forefront: Why is this skill-set in such high demand?

I feel that there is no clear answer to this question, nor a definitive response however, from my experience working with clients and engineers over the years, I can only venture one opinion; It costs money. If a PLC is down and not fixed promptly, the effect on production and down time can be significant – and that does not bold well for profits.

When a genuine PLC issue arises, without that PLC guru within your team, as a client, you may have to outsource the remedy of this issue to contracted automation specialists. These often act as experienced contractors who come onto site on short notice to put out the fires that the existing workforce cannot. These automation contractors will happily fill that skills gap within your team, but at a price.

I’ve met numerous experienced electrical maintenance engineers who have decided to brave the contracting world.  Mostly because they’ve mastered their PLC skills and know all too well how high a price this skill-set commands. And who can blame them? It is simple ‘supply and demand’ business ethics.

From the perspective of the recruiter, locating this type of skill at a reasonable price is genuinely like finding a needle in a haystack. It also comes with significant risk to the client – as these types of candidates are the envy of their competitors and keeping them happy in their role becomes crucial. It is my responsibility to source the best possible solution for my candidate and client, but also, it is vital that expectations are managed openly and transparently. Matching the move motivators of the placed candidate to the package on offer becomes the priority, to protect all involved from disappointment down the line.

On the whole, I can empathise with why a client would desire the elusive PLC skill set. I would encourage being mindful of the whole candidate offering and not over-looking other aspects of their skills and strengths in sole search of ticking such a difficult box. Of course, it is also the responsibility of the recruiter and the candidate to not over-sell their PLC aptitude. Both client and candidate must concede ground for a compromise to be successful, and for lasting deals to be done. After all, if all boxes are ticked and things seem too good to be true, they often are!

I hope you enjoyed reading my article. Please take time to like, share and post your comments.

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