STEM Outreach: It’s That Simple

By Jennifer Read, EMSNOW Editor

This week, we’ve introduced another new columnist, Karl Berger, who is an expert at EMS Business Development. He advises EMS companies on their sales and account management activities, one of the key factors in a profitable business. In this feature, he discusses setting up an effective incentive structure. We’ve also brought our readers two updates about Asia; one from Dominique K. Numakura about Nepcon Japan and another from Howell Wang about 10 key questions to ask a potential Chinese manufacturing partner.

And,  Engineers Week is coming up! We’ve reported on what companies like Digi-key are doing to help young people learn about electronics manufacturing. Here in Austin, Texas, there are plenty of companies that reach out to local high school students to encourage them to consider tech careers, so I wasn’t surprised to hear the daughter of a friend describe a tour of the Samsung processor chip facility in North Austin during Engineer’s Week activities. What I did take note of was her reaction. She had signed up on Facebook, and had enjoyed the tour far more than she expected. “I got to see how they make cell phone components. Before I went on the tour, I was going to open a bakery, but now I think I’ll be an engineer.”

And voila. Another convert to electronics manufacturing. And a girl, no less! These impressionable young adults are searching for a purpose, a career and now is the time to ignite their imaginations with the possibilities of our industry. Wouldn’t it be great to see more young people attending shows, lining up at career fairs, and finding out about Industry 4.0?

I’ve seen this before. The Electronic Component Industry Association (ECIA) supports the Dean Kamen FIRST Robotics program through their Foundation. ECIA Members supply the parts for the Team robotics projects that are used in competitions. At many of their events they invite a local FIRST team to demonstrate their contest entries. I’ve seen a robot solve a Rubik’s Cube, move boxes around, and go through intricate routines – all built by high school teams led by a heroic local volunteer engineer, who usually looks like s/he is having as much fun as the kids. These kids see how the industry works by attending ECIA regional and national events, where they meet the member companies that later can offer them internships through an alumni internship portal.

Through these fun experiences, many are headed for a career in electronics.

The truth is manufacturing has a PR problem among US teenagers. Some kids think working in a factory is one of the last things they would consider. Horror stories about Chinese young people working 80 hours a week and jumping out of windows in despair need to be countered with the truth about the kinds of careers available today. In smaller towns, where manufacturing jobs provided a good middle class life for their parents, the Great Recession saw lots of those jobs disappear leaving behind bitterness and resentment. Discussions around the dinner table do not include training for factory jobs, even as many good-paying jobs go unfilled.

Next week at APEX, IPC CEO John Mitchell will describe a new program IPC is launching for STEM outreach. They have invited local high school students from two area high schools to attend the show and participate in panel discussions.  I would encourage attendees to engage with these kids if possible and be part of the PR campaign to ‘make manufacturing cool again’. I’m old enough to remember when making the hardware that makes all these magical devices was a career that attracted the best and brightest.

It doesn’t take much. A few encounters with the reality that is electronics manufacturing today – the sleek, clean, automated factories like Samsung’s aren’t the sweatshops that teens have heard about from their Snapchat feed. Many companies are already doing this. Creative Electron is involved with the MiraCosta foundation. ASM, Mycronic, Panasonic and Nordson have all sponsored the new IPC Outreach program, and individually provide scholarships and other funding for outreach.

Teen hearts and minds can be changed – but it takes a positive encounter and it won’t happen by itself. Each of us must step up and engage with the young adults in our communities.

And stop by EMSNOW’s booth #2851 at APEX, or email us for an appointment, so Eric Miscoll and I can meet you and get feedback about EMSNOW 2.0. I look forward to seeing you!

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