Editor’s note: The electronics industry has been suffering from a talent shortage for years. The U.S. CHIPS Act provides funding for training and education, but results are still years away. EPSNews contributor Phil Stoten has co-hosted two panels on the topic and has been speaking with EMS industry executives about how to mitigate the impact of the talent shortage, which extends throughout the supply chain. Here’s a handful of suggestions that might help compete in the race for talent, or at least mitigate the damage to businesses.
Outsource where appropriate
The electronics manufacturing services industry exists because it is the trusted outsourcing partner for OEMs. But the industry is reluctant to outsource for itself. There are outsourcing models available to EMS companies and to printed circuit board (PCB) manufacturers that can ease the skills gap.
One such service is provided by Nextgen CADCAM, a company based in India and led by experienced manufacturing engineers offering many of the services provided by an internal engineering team, such as quoting, supply chain, CADCAM, PCB design, front end engineering and procurement.
Leveraging lower cost labor (typically between one quarter and half the cost of the U.S. or Western Europe) with experience, good training and skilled management, all with 24/7 support, provides a great way to mitigate the skills shortage. Outsourcers should outsource when appropriate.
Can automation help mitigate the need for talent? The simple answer is yes. Automation has always been about reducing the demand for labor, particularly labor categorized by the “three Ds” — dirty, dangerous and dull. But in many cases the automation available seems inappropriate for the high-mix world of EMS where the tasks undertaken by operators are extremely varied and require dexterity.
More intelligent automation, more thoughtful automation design and more adaptable automation fills that gap. Companies such as MTEK and Bright Machines have been pushing the boundaries in this area with some success. Some companies are even offering models for automation-as-a-service that look more like hiring robots in the same way you hire people, pushing the cost to the P&L rather than capex. New companies like Launchpad.build and CLIP Automation are bringing game changing solutions that can simplify the adoption of a digital approach to automation.
The electronics industry has been slow to invest in the digital transformation of many of the manual processes in the factory. This would considerably mitigate talent issues.
Keep the talent you have
It may seem obvious, but EMS companies such as KATEK are creating a culture and a brand that people want to work for and are prepared to go that extra mile for. The current crisis has built up a head of pressure in many teams, particularly those working in the supply chain, where stress is sky high. Burn out is a risk and a contributor to the great resignation.
Google and Apple attract the best graduates and interns because they have a brand that people respect and identify with. Electronics manufacturing could be an industry that people feel good about, connect with culturally and want to go to work for. This is true for attracting new applicants to open roles and to keeping those you already have.
Upskill your team
Progression is a natural desire for everyone in an organization. Companies that have programs to upskill, develop and promote their staff are recruiting and retaining not just more people, but better people.
If you can build your team from within, if you can train, mentor and develop people, you’ll have the skills you need for the future and you’ll suffer less from poor retention, a problem not entirely unseen in the contract manufacturing world.
Training your staff not only upskills them, it shows them you value them and want to invest in their future within your organization. There are numerous examples of EMS senior executives that started on the factory floor and ended up in the corner suite running the entire enterprise. They were trained, mentored, and most importantly valued.
Be a recruiting ninja
Recruiting isn’t running an ad for a vacant position in the local press or online, it’s a complex and strategic issue. It might just be the most important issue. Getting to talent first creates a company and environment and a remuneration structure that people want. Be a ninja.
There are other ways of mitigating the real and growing threat of simply not having enough skilled people to get the job done. While supply chain shortages hurt, a worsening talent shortage could put the industry in a world of pain. Now is the time to act and get ahead of what might be an existential crisis for the entire industry.
Be the best brand in the space, be a recruitment ninja and take the best care you can of your team. Don’t be afraid to outsource and embrace digital transformation.