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In a recent interview with SMT Magazine, David Bergman, vice president of standards and technology at IPC, explains how the organization helps elevate the industry through its training, continuous education, and standards development.
Stephen Las Marias: What are the big challenges you are looking at that really need to be tackled for overall industry growth?
David Bergman: The most critical issue we are facing is the recruitment and retention of employees. This stems from several other issues, specifically, a growing skill gap between the knowledge and skill that our current workforce possesses, and the knowledge and skills needed to compete in a global marketplace; rapidly evolving technology and the currently inefficient means of disseminating and swiftly training our workforce; lack of educational structures that support work and learn opportunities, stackable credentialing and education, and rapid retraining; and lack of transfer of retiring professional’s knowledge base to young engineers.
Las Marias: What are the causes of these challenges?
Bergman: These challenges are created by a myriad of core issues in our industry. The single largest problem, however, is the lack of clearly defined career pathways, mechanisms for growth, and a structured training framework for the industry. Without clearly defined career paths, the industry will have trouble recruiting young talent that can easily decide on industries with “better” opportunities. Without mechanisms for individuals to grow, the industry has trouble maintaining the talent they currently employ. No one wants to be working in the same job 10 years from now. This also ties back to the first point of a lack of career pathways. Finally, the lack of training and apprentice frameworks in the industry make it difficult to recruit and retain talent. This also impacts other parts of the industry also. The lack of this training infrastructure makes it difficult for companies to rapidly retrain employees for changing needs or the emergence of new technology.
Las Marias: Why is there a need for continuous training and education of the current workforce in the electronics assembly industry?
Bergman: Simply put, components are getting smaller, printed circuit board size is shrinking, electronic products are continually changing, manufacturing equipment is becoming more automated and requires technical repair skills, and worldwide manufacturing requires communication skills. Technologies change; needs change. Success in the electronics industry is largely determined by a company’s ability to meet industry needs, but these needs are not static. The ability to rapidly and effectively retrain workers on new processes and methods, or new technologies, is a key factor in competition.
Las Marias: How would you describe the skills gap right now in the electronics manufacturing industry?
Bergman: The skills gap is a chronic problem in the electronics manufacturing sector. Most manufacturing companies have a hard time aligning the talent needed to run their businesses with the talent that is available to work locally. And as new innovations emerge, new skill requirements emerge as well.
As an association that represents thousands of member facilities across the global electronics industry supply chain, we decided to survey our U.S. members to gain insight into how the skills gap affects them. The results indicate that most of our member companies have trouble finding applicants with the necessary experience and technical skills.
Among production jobs, general assembler and hand solder experts are the most difficult to fill. On the professional side, quality control, process and entry-level electrical engineers have been hardest to find. Insufficient experience is the most common reason that applicants do not qualify for most positions. However, for many technical professional positions, the leading reason jobs went unfilled was that there were no applicants at all.
Respondents cite many essential skills that are in short supply, but the most common ones are soldering for production jobs, and engineers with industry experience, especially in process, test, and quality control. Two-thirds of our member companies reported they would expand their operations if they knew that finding qualified workers would be no problem. Thus, finding solutions to the skills gap is a high priority if America wants to expand its manufacturing sector.
In response to mounting concern about the shortage of U.S. workers with skills needed by electronics manufacturers, IPC conducted a fast-facts study this April to learn more about the skills gap as it affects U.S. electronics assembly manufacturers.
Las Marias: How is IPC helping the industry address this issue?
Bergman: Smart decisions, quality products, reliable performance are all critical to success in the highly-competitive, always evolving global electronics industry. To support these everchanging demands, IPC delivers various methods of education, training, and certification. IPC training and certification programs are based on some of the most popular and critical IPC standards. IPC also develops media products for use in training employees in specific subject matter topics.
Launched last July, IPC EDGE delivers educational opportunities via online video training across the industry. IPC EDGE provides a 24/7 online training environment. The goal is to maximize training efficiency with minimal time away from the job or time spent in a traditional classroom.
The system is mobile friendly with on-demand courses ranging from IPC Essentials, an introductory course to the electronics industry, to a new electrostatic discharge (ESD) certification program launched in September 2016. More than 40 courses are currently available with more planned for release in 2017.
IPC EDGE curriculum will continue to evolve to meet the industry’s growing demands. To further accomplish this, IPC has engaged member companies and training centers to develop new course topics. The result of this is a strengthened education portfolio to deliver the most efficient and effective training possible.
Through these educational programs, IPC aims to keep the electronics industry workforce on top of their game.
To read the full version of this article, which appeared in the September 2017 issue of SMT Magazine, click here.