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Help Wanted

An exclusive survey of RFID Journal readers indicates a growing need for employees with a variety of RFID skills. Are universities and training companies educating people to meet the demand?
By Ari Juels
Apr 01, 2005—At West Pharmaceutical Services, a packager of injectable drugs, Don McMillan, vice president of marketing, looks ahead and sees his industry facing an arduous, complicated journey. To thwart counterfeiting, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began last year to encourage pharmaceutical companies to use RFID technology to track drugs through the supply chain.

In the near future, every dose will need to be tagged and tracked from pharmaceutical company to packager through perhaps several distributors to hospitals, pharmacies, walk-in clinics and doctors’ offices. But accomplishing that will require a small army of qualified people.

The question for companies such as West Pharmaceutical, which is relying on RFID systems provider Tagsys to implement its system, is whether there will be enough skilled people to meet the coming demand. “It’s overwhelming when you get down to it,” says McMillan. “It’s a huge challenge.”

And the pharmaceutical industry is just one of many that will need employees—or consultants—who understand radio frequency technologies. In North America, hundreds of manufacturers are responding to compliancy mandates from retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target, and from the U.S. Department of Defense. In Europe, similar mandates are being imposed by Metro Group, Tesco and other retailers. RFID is gaining traction in the airplane manufacturing industry, consumer electronics (see The Buzz in Consumer Electronics), baggage handling and other industries.

In the coming years, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of products will need to be tagged. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of readers will need to be installed and maintained. And thousands of systems will need to be designed and integrated across a wide range of challenging environments and supply chains.

An exclusive rfid journal online survey shows that McMillan is not alone in worrying about whether there will be enough qualified people to meet the rapidly escalating demand. The 501 respondents included a wide range of people from around the world—from industry and government users, which constituted the majority of respondents, to vendors and students. Of the employers and employees who responded, 59 percent said their company plans to hire at least one person to work on RFID projects in 2005 and 15 percent said they didn’t know. Only 25 percent of those respondents said that their company had no plans to hire someone with RFID skills this year.

When asked what kind of RFID skills their company is looking for, 39 percent said software engineering or development skills; 38 percent said business process change skills; 35 percent said RF engineering skills; 31 percent said automatic identification systems design skills; 31 percent said IT or networking skills; and 11 percent said packaging engineering skills.

How important is it for these future employees to have a formal education in RFID? A whopping 79 percent of employers said it was either “somewhat important,” “very important” or “essential.” But 60 percent of all respondents said there is a need for RFID courses that is not being addressed by universities, colleges or technical schools. Of the 116 students and academics who responded to the survey, 84 percent said their school offers no RFID courses.

When asked about the importance of hiring people who have taken training courses from private companies, 78 percent of employers said it was either “somewhat important,” “very important” or “essential.” According to the employers and employees who responded to the survey, 37 percent of their staff or colleagues have taken an RFID training course provided by a private company. Courses ranged from a general RFID overview (69 percent) to vendor-specific hardware training (40 percent).
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