Skills Gap Widens in Electronics Manufacturing

A study by IPC finds that most electronics companies are having a hard time finding qualified production workers and skilled engineers.

The dearth of skilled workers for manufacturing is hitting the electronics industry in both production and engineering. In order to identify just what’s lacking in the manufacturing workforce, IPC – the Association Connecting Electronics Industries – conducted a study that examines how the gap affects US electronics manufacturers. The results are included in the study, "Findings on the Skills Gap in US Electronics Manufacturing ." IPC researchers found that that most companies are having a hard time recruiting qualified production workers, and an even harder time finding qualified engineers and other technical professionals.

skills gap, electronics, engineers, production, manufacturingIPC researchers didn’t expect the regional differences that showed up in the results. “We found there is a difference in terms of recruiting production workers if different areas of the country,” Sharon Starr, IPC market research director, told Design News. “Companies in the eastern and western US seemed to have more difficulty finding production workers than those in the Midwest and the South. With engineers, the Midwest seemed to have less difficulty.”

Manufacturing Is Not Top of Mind for the Young

The goal of the study was to identify specifics about the skills gap so that organizations such as IPC and employers affected by the skills gap can determine what actions they can take to help build the skill base of the US labor force. A representative sample of 45 US contract electronics manufacturers and OEMs contributed data.

One thing the study revealed is there is a combination of factors causing the skills gap. For one, manufacturing is not on the mind of prospective production workers and engineers. “A declining manufacturing sector is coupled with the trend of Baby Boomers who are aging out,” said Starr. “Because of this, the younger sector doesn’t have manufacturing on their radar. They’re drawn to several other sectors besides manufacturing.”

The Skills Gap Is New for Electronics

Among production jobs that are going unfilled, the study identified general assembler and hand solderer 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 production applicants fall short for most positions. For many engineering and other technical professional positions – especially in process, test and quality control – the leading reason jobs went unfilled was that there were no applicants at all.

Starr noted that the skills gap in the electronic industry is a relatively new phenomenon. “The study didn’t measure this length of the shortage. I began to hear about it three or four years ago,” said Starr. “It seemed to be a hot topic all of a sudden. A parallel trend is the movement of manufacturing overseas. That has shrunk the size of US manufacturing.”

Foreign Workers Won’t End Up Filling the Gap

In the current climate, filling the gap with non-US workers is not


One fact that may be driving the apparent shortage is the serious problem of so many folks, especially the younger ones are unable or unwilling to focus their attention for more than a few seconds, at best. And it is not just my theory, I have verified it in conversations with quite a few high school teachers. If they can't focus they can't learn.

If only there was a way for the employer to train the prospective employees... I mean, the ones that have experience right now had to start from somewhere. Employers these days want the employee to pay for their own training (college, etc). One reason may be, because the employer fears that if they train a new employee, they may leave for another, higher-paying, company.

This is what happens when corporations value more a mere High School education plus an Industry Certification than a Ph.D. from a top Engineering School. They are victims of their own greed.

This is what happens when you use automatic software to choose your prospective employee. I managed people for years and did not rely on H.R. to figure out which resumes to send to me after the ones they did send (who's school and skills looked great on paper), did not work out. There's a lot of valuable information in a resume that tells one if that person has the ability to write a report, organize their thoughts, complete a project....skills over and above the obvious engineering experience

It's rare that HR can recognize and evaluate transferrable skills. If you don't list enough of the right buzzwords then your resume is tossed. A buddy recently experienced this - an engineer working in manufacturing for the tobacco industry for fifteen years, he answered an advertisement for a manufacturing engineering at a heavy machinery plant. Despite meeting all of their stated requirements in PLCs and motor drives, they told him his "inexperience" disqualified him.

Before I retired from electronics engineering at the close of 1994, I'd specialized in automated production test equipment for electronics manufacturers. Back then, I saw a lack of appropriately-skilled engineers to replace me. Apparently, the situation has greatly worsened, and universities give no more than a backgrounding on the basics. The only solution I can see is the resumption of apprenticeship programs, and I urge manufacturers to consider this very seriously.

Here's part of the problem: "entry-level electrical engineers have been hardest to find" followed by "Insufficient experience". Employers expect entry-level candidates to already have lots of experience. It doesn't work that way. What these companies are really saying is that they want candidates with years of experience but who are willing to accept starting level wages. Even if they find such people, they won't stay for that deal.

Its a combination of things. 1)Manufacturing jobs leaving the US. 2) Certain schools closing (ex: ITT Technical Institute). Certain areas don't have technical schools in a demographic area which creates "voids". 3) Manufacturing companies expect hired techs to be "out of the box ready". This is coming from management members who couldn't ID a resistor from a capacitor if their families lives depended on it. These manufacturing companies don't focus on training their employees to a higher leve

Some companies may not be "reinvesting" in their employees. This would be a win-win for both employee & company. This also helps with employee retention.

There is a glut of good talent (layoffs, grads, H1b). If a company was really losing money, it would quickly fill and train people (pre-mid 1980's). What employers do is cherry pick someone who can replace two people (99+ "ands" piano roll ads) , can work cheaper (H1b), or can hit the ground running (Starship Trooper orbital drop) to replace an old employee with years of company evolved OJT. Some job openings relisted for years "unfilled" and yet sit waiting after getting 10K+ resumes. Sad^2.

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