Better Electronics Start with Better Training, Says IPC
By David Hernandez, vice president, education, IPC
Challenges Posed by a Historic Skills Gap
The term skills gap is used to describe a mismatch between the skills that employers need and the skills that job seekers possess. It seems straightforward enough, but it’s often used as a catch-all phrase that oversimplifies more complex and multifaceted issues. As commonly construed, skills gap implies a short-term problem and solution, and in some cases, it really is a matter of providing job candidates with the required skills. However, many of the workforce challenges we see today extend well beyond this narrow interpretation of the term. They include the identification and onboarding of new talent; providing ongoing, job-based training to existing workers; and rapidly upskilling employees to capitalize on the latest techniques and technologies.
A 2018 skills gap in manufacturing study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute reported that the U.S. manufacturing skills gap could leave as many as 2.4 million jobs unfilled by 2028 and cost the U.S. economy more than $2.5 trillion. The magnitude of the impact is attributable to shifting skillsets due to the introduction of new technologies and automation, misperception of manufacturing jobs, and the retirement of baby boomers. The “great reassessment” triggered by the COVID pandemic only adds to the scale of the issues as large swathes of the US population rethink where and how they want to work. This confluence of variables has led to an unprecedented demand for workers at all skill levels, from operators to engineers.
How IPC is Closing the Skills Gap
IPC is working with the educational community and industry members on two large-scale initiatives to address the full scope of the skills gap at each skill level. Our secondary education pipeline programs are driving a new generation of qualified individuals to the industry and our Workforce Training Initiative is setting the standard for training across multiple sectors of the industry.
IPC Pipeline Programs
The IPC Education Foundation and Education Team are happy to be collaborating with schools and member companies to foster interest in electronics manufacturing and help prepare the next generation of electronics industry members. IPC classroom curriculums and online programs on fundamental electronics skills will soon allow students to expand their horizons and earn IPC credentials as proof of their initiative and readiness for employment. The IPC Education Foundation is already working with member companies that have generously volunteered to offer tours that provide students with a firsthand look at the high-tech environment in their local facilities. This program will soon expand to systematically connect students and recent graduates with companies that have matching opportunities for internships and employment.
IPC Workforce Training Initiative
Finding new talent is just the first step. Next you have onboarding, promotional training, and upskilling.
Numerous studies show that company-wide, research-based training programs allow employers to increase productivity, reduce waste, and keep up with new technologies and processes. Moreover, training programs that identify career pathways and growth opportunities are proven to increase employee morale and retention.
However, not all training is created equal. IPC’s team of educational specialists is collaborating with subject matter experts to create a suite of training programs that meet the job-specific needs of workers across a broad range of industry roles and skill levels. A lot goes into it, but in essence we employ proven learning strategies and industry-informed content to produce engaging, effective, and efficient learning experiences that allow participants to learn more in less time.
Because of this, employers have been able to use IPC Workforce Training Programs to bring new workers up to full productivity quickly and effectively. In other words, new team members learn to do it the right way from the get-go.
Of course, onboarding is not the end of the line. To retain talent, we must turn jobs into careers. The industry-wide IPC Workforce Training suite of courses allows employees to envision the next step. This is an especially important consideration given the current historically tight labor market. For example, selling a job seeker on an operator position is a lot easier if you can point to the specific educational opportunities that allow for career advancement when they are ready.
And then there is upskilling. In an increasingly competitive global market, training workers on new methods, machines, and materials can be a matter of corporate survival. The upside is that relevant and engaging upskill training programs like those provided by IPC have been proven to increase employee productivity, confidence, and morale.
Organizations that have implemented IPC Workforce Training programs report that staff members learn more in less time (some identified a 50% decrease in training times) and retain more of what they learned. We continue to work closely with industry subject matter experts to ensure that we provide engaging education experiences that focus on the right information taught to the right depth and in the right context.
PCB Design is one of the first career pathways that IPC tackled. PCB designers are retiring at an alarming rate and the industry didn’t have the proper mechanisms in place to train new talent. IPC created a series of six- to eight-week, online instructor-led courses for three different levels of learners (entry, mid, advanced) and a wide range of design specializations (e.g., military-aerospace, rigid-flex, etc.). These programs blend the convenience of online distance learning, with the practicality of a project-based curriculum. Every week, students are tasked with completing a real-world design project that apply the skills they learned in class. They then receive feedback and coaching from our expert instructors.
The IPC Workforce Training suite of courses also includes online self-paced and instructor-led offerings such as Electronics Assembly for Operators, Electronics Assembly for Engineers, Wire Harness Assembly for Operators, IPC-A-610 for Operators, IPC-J-STD-001 for Operators, ESD Control for Electronics Assembly, CFX courses and many more. With a variety of courses available, we are directly addressing the critical issues of pipeline, onboarding, and staff retention in a way we hope attracts the best and brightest to our industry. For more information on how we can help you meet your education and training needs, visit Training.ipc.org.