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Hey Automation Industry…keep moving forward to survive!

Then, Now and the Future – A Women’s International Day Affirmation

 Liz Jacobs, Chief Marketing Officer, Automation Strategy & Performance, Inc. a workforce solutions company


I must admit, one of my first exposures to the building automation industry was disconcerting…

Recently as we at ASP talked about International Women’s Day, we reflected on how that may have been the case for many women in the industry “back then.”

If you entered the industry in the late 1990’s or early 2000’s, perhaps you can relate to this.

In 2005, newly hired as head of product marketing for a global OEM of building controls, I got off a plane in Florida and hurried to a cab (no Uber back then) to take me to my new employer’s Annual Top Managers Meeting. I had been on the job less than two weeks.

The hotel ballroom I entered was darkened. The meeting had just begun.  Row upon row of chairs were full of people, silhouetted against the lights of the stage up front where our CFO spoke.

I was excited at this new opportunity. I felt the enthusiasm of the hundreds of others in the darkened room as we heard about advances in building technology and the positive impact we have on people, industries and the future.

Then the lights went on, and my concern and self-doubt began.  

Of the several hundred people in the room, only about 20 of us were women.  I wondered to myself if I’d made a good decision coming to this industry.  Would I thrive? Would I have role models?  Would I have mentors?


Fast forward 18 years to today.  At Automation Strategy & Performance we are celebrating International Women’s Day and reflect on many of our team members’ experiences.

I’m personally thrilled to have stayed in this industry for all these years, and happy to say I thrived and excelled.  And we at ASP are even more encouraged by the growing number of women we see in it today – especially those early in their careers who have caught the excitement of being in the critical infrastructure field.  

At ASP, we know in our veins that the automation industry is vital to – quite frankly – humanity.

And as a workforce solutions company, we know that the long road many of us traveled to learn the industry isn’t going to be effective in “the now.”

While access to this industry for women and others has grown over the years, the industry is at a crossroads with labor shortages, and it must do more to attract women into the workforce. 

Let me explain a bit more.

ASP recently had the opportunity to applaud the story of an amazing woman in our industry, Carla Miller.

Carla Miller, General Manager, Albireo Energy, Southeast

Carla is General Manager for Albireo Energy in the Southeast. Carla was just 17 years old when she started working in the building automation industry.  As a high school student employed by what was then Alabama Controls, she had an after-school job working in the accounting office.

“When I started,” Carla said, “I really didn’t know what we did.”  She had been around computers all her life and had a natural curiosity for learning networks.  She was encouraged to learn as much as she wanted.  And she did. 

Even as a college student, Carla worked in the field.  When she finished her undergraduate degree in interior design, her boss offered some career advice. “We don’t think you should go into interior design,” Carla mentioned.  That’s because she had spent her free time teaching herself networks.  She stayed with the company and after two decades held almost every company role.  In 2020, Carla was promoted to her current position as General Manager for Albireo Energy’s Southeast division.


While my experience coming into the industry and Carla’s experience are both good, our experiences required a lot of self-learning, seeking out knowledge and even grit that isn’t necessarily efficient. It may not be an attractive way to incent others into the industry.  And in fact, numbers show that.  

According to Melissa Boutwell, President of ASP and from her work with federal and state departments of labor, just 3% of automation field technicians are women, for instance.  While some of us women broke into the industry by chance, many others don’t, or don’t bother.

That doesn’t bode well for filling the dramatically increasing number of vacancies happening in our industry from retirements, a surge in new automation job creation, and a shrinking workforce pool.


Allison Lewis, ETA Apprenticeship Program Manager

That’s why we at ASP are so excited and inspired by two women early in their automation careers.

They’re leading the way to help the automation industry grow by understanding employers’ pain points and helping them close vacancy- and expertise-gaps with new approaches.

Allison Lewis is Apprentice Program Manager for Emerging Technology Apprenticeships, a unique non-profit school delivering modern apprenticeships specific to the building automation and critical infrastructure industry.   

Allison is passionate and is on a journey to help the automation industry benefit from the vast pool of career-seekers that typically don’t even consider our industry.  


With the phenomenal increase in demand for automation expertise because of electrification, intelligent buildings, onshoring of manufacturing, and cybersecurity threats to critical infrastructure, career-changers and career-seekers including women are looking for how to enter the automation industry with its good paying jobs.

I watched Allison at AHR Expo in February as she met over and over with owners and senior managers of system integrator companies.  They were regaling tales of how difficult it is to find new employees who had OT and IT competencies. 

Allison talked about how they might not be looking in the right places these days.

33% of applicants to ETA’s Operational Technology apprenticeship programs are women, Allison explained.  They are interested in becoming controls specialists, automation specialists, integrated design specialists and cybersecurity specialists, and have the aptitude, attitude and appetite to succeed.


What Allison is helping do for the automation industry today inspires our company.

Kennady Gales, ASP Employer Program Manager

She works closely with another woman who also inspires us at our company – Kennedy Gales.  

Kennsdy is ASP’s Employer Program Manager. Kennady is also passionate about the industry and works closely with automation employers to help them execute career roadmaps and strategies that give their companies a competitive edge in filling vacant automation jobs and upskilling and retaining existing employees who might otherwise be poached away.

These two women, along with the many more such as Carla Miller who are in technical, operational, human resources and executive management roles at automation companies, are a big part of the future of our industry more so than ever before.

We applaud them all on this International Women’s Day in 2023.

We know that their work will inspire many more career-seekers and employers alike to embrace equity and use new tools such as apprenticeship and mentorship in the automation industry to scale the automation workforce of the future – for all of our futures.