Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail

By Jennifer Read, Consultant

That’s a quote from Ben Franklin cited by IPC CEO John Mitchell in a video blog about the recently published IPC Study of the North American Labor Pool for Electronics Manufacturing. Recruiting and training the next generation of workers for the PCB industry is one of the most important ways for companies to prepare for the future. Our study shows that more than 70 percent of those surveyed believe there is a skilled labor shortage, with 2/3 of respondents reporting difficulties in filling production worker positions in the past six months.

I had the privilege of working on this important study with IPC’s market research director Sharon Starr. We interviewed and surveyed IPC members to uncover the challenges and opportunities they faced in recruiting and training the next generation of electronics manufacturing workers. There is consensus that the industry will face serious skilled labor shortages in the coming years as employers are increasingly unable to lure the sharpest young people away from careers that are perceived to be more lucrative and exciting: e.g. software, finance and medical technology. And there is increased frustration among employers at the caliber of the applicants that respond to job postings.

Here are some of the drivers of the recruitment challenges discussed in the report:

  • Public perceptions of the industry
  • Dynamics of supply and demand growth
  • Job candidate expectations
  • Manufacturers’ constraints

For example, one glaring challenge is the fact that PCB fabricators and EMS companies are at a distinct disadvantage when competing for talent with their OEM customers due to resource constraints. What can be done about this inconvenient fact of life? The good news is that there are misperceptions about the industry that can be addressed. It isn’t all about salaries paid. Some of the job candidates feel a lack of trust in manufacturing jobs in North America. When the manufacturing renaissance has lasted for some time and people see that these jobs are here to stay, that should change.

The ‘Maker Revolution’ is starting to catch on among the millennial generation. There are initiatives happening at the federal, state and local level to get young people excited about STEM subjects in general, and electronics hardware manufacturing specifically. From Maker Faires to field trips to trade shows, to grant awards to community colleges for training programs, there is a growing awareness that manufacturing is vital to the U.S. economy. And many in the education and government community are willing to put their money where their mouth is to help employers recruit and train the smartest workers for today’s high tech electronics factories.

Our report addresses the causes of today’s recruitment challenges, identifies the labor pool gaps and training needs, and discusses solutions. It is based on primary data from a representative sample of 107 companies that participated in IPC’s survey and secondary research and analysis. The companies that participated accounted for an estimated $31.7 billion in sales and included U.S. and Canadian electronics original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), electronics manufacturing services (EMS) companies, printed circuit board (PCB) fabricators, and suppliers of materials and equipment to those industry segments.

The report is available for sale at The cost is $450 for IPC members and $900 for nonmembers.

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