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The Race to Find Skilled Electronics Labor is On

Here’s how one major university is helping electronics manufacturers cultivate an alternative workforce to handle assembly and related work.

With the national unemployment rate hovering at 3.7% for most of the year, 2019 finds companies running out of ideas for finding, recruiting, and retaining skilled workers to handle their burgeoning work pipelines. According to the Department of Labor, the U.S. economy had 7.6 million unfilled jobs, but only 6.5 million people were looking for work as of Jan. 2019. 

In “Components industry struggles to find skilled talent”, Ryan Margraf writes about the ongoing skilled worker shortage and how it’s impacting semiconductor and electronic components manufacturers in the U.S. and Europe. “The situation is so severe that the president of a major electronics industry trade group called the skilled worker shortage the industry’s top concern,” he points out.

Operating in a trillion-dollar industry, firms that manufacture electronic assemblies have an “abundance of work and need more skilled employees to deliver products,” MarketWatch reports. Most of these firms specialize in component design, the assembly of circuit boards, and various other services, the research firm adds, noting that electronic contract assembly services are expected to post “robust growth” by servicing the consumer electronics, automotive, and healthcare sectors, among others.

But first, electronics manufacturers must find skilled and semi-skilled workers to fill the empty seats being created by the healthy economy or left open by the retiring Baby Boom generation. According to the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), some of them are helping veteran workers transition over to new careers in electronics assembly.

How the Program Works

This summer, RIT offered Surface Mount Electronics Assembly Training for Veterans. According to the university, 20 local veterans, displaced workers, and spouses of veterans gained cutting-edge skills—and career options—in the electronics industry. “Electronics is huge, it’s everywhere, and it’s not going away,” RIT’s College of Engineering Technology’s Martin Anselm said in a campus publication. “This is a skill set that has a broader impact for veterans; this is career-building.”

The three-week training program attracted local residents ages 20-60, all of whom were recruited by Rochester’s Veterans Outreach Center, the local nonprofit RochesterWorks! and the New York State Department of Labor (DOL). According to RIT, program funding came from DOL’s Consolidated Funding Application for Workforce Development.

During the program, students learned about electronic component technology, printed circuit board development and production, and soldering techniques, as well as quality control and operator training. With the foundational work completed, a master IPC trainer began preparing the students to become certified in specific electronic assembly and production processes required by companies. According to the university, IPC provides a structured curriculum based on industry needs and incorporates trends in the use of new materials, as well as the integration of smaller, more powerful components.

A Good Foundation

RIT’s program gives students a good foundation to work from when gaining employment in the electronics manufacturing space. “Everybody is responsible—from the technician level to management on the overall quality of electronics products,” said Anslem, who compared the summer training to material he’d teach second-year students in his engineering technology courses.

“They need to understand that devices they will be making are sensitive and some of those concepts can become fairly complex,” he continued. “This is a hands-on training that involves a lot of critical thinking and discussion.”

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