The Best It’s Ever Been, Every Year: The Goal for IPC, Part 1

Barry Matties, I-Connect007 | 01-29-2018

The end of 2017 caps an exciting time for IPC and IPC China as membership has grown substantially, in part because of new offerings from the organization to its Asian members. Meeting with Barry Matties at HKPCA, John Mitchell and Phil Carmichael discuss the areas of focus for IPC in the upcoming year, first and foremost being education and welcoming a new generation into the industry.

Barry Matties: You're a lot of smiles, and I think for good reason; I hear you now have 1,000 members in China? That's amazing. Because when Phil started, you had something like 200-300, and that was just five years ago?

John Mitchell: It'll be five years in January. The team here has done a really good job of reaching out to the members, and potential members, and really helping demonstrate how IPC standards and training, really goes right to the bottom line. We've just partnered with a group to go out and get some very specific member feedback on the value IPC provides, and I’m very excited about the preliminary data we have received. So, by IPC APEX EXPO, you'll start seeing some of that coming out. There are negative comments there as well, as there will be when you have 4,300 member sites.

Matties: But that's what we learn from, right?

Mitchell: We learn from that and then we know how to lead better. If you're reading this, and you have something we should fix, we want to know that too.

Matties: What sort of things do people have issues with?

Mitchell: So, it's a plus and a minus. We've been changing a lot in the last five or six years, and that's a plus in a lot of regards. The very fact that we're not doing things the exact same way we've always done them, I hear a lot of concerns and questions about that. We are trying to keep up with where the future is going and most members are very good with that. They understand it and are ready to move and they're appreciative of our helping them be ready for the future. Others, it's a challenge for them. We're trying to find ways to help them bridge that gap into more modern-day requirements. A lot of what we're trying to do to meet their needs centers around using the latest technologies and processes.

For instance, the number two most requested change or concern that most of our members have about their business is people. There's either a shortage, they can't hire the right people, or there's turnover, whatever those issues may be. We're working very diligently to globally help develop the workforce. We've had some great test cases with some member companies, frankly, over the last seven years and we've seen positive results. We're trying to figure out how to bring those results and products to either interface with people’s learning management systems (LMS), if they already have one, or if they don't, provide such a system for them so they can track and actually provide the training. Either we'll generate the content ourselves where we have the expertise, or we're partnering with people to provide it so we can deliver cost-effective education solutions.

When I was a manager and I wanted to promote somebody, I would promote them and say, "Hey, Dave! Guess what? Congratulations! You're now the senior lead!" And he'd go, "Okay, where's my training?" And I'd reluctantly have to say something like, "Come to me if you have any problems." And this was when I worked for a multibillion-dollar company, so even in some big companies, workforce development is not perfect.

Matties: Sure, it's a tribal knowledge approach.

Mitchell: That's right, but in small- and medium-sized companies, which comprises most of our membership, there's less budget and resources to provide education and training. So, we feel as an association that's something we can do to help the entire global industry, and you're going to see a lot more coming that way.

Matties: With education, what sort of training is it that you really have to focus on? What is lacking?

Mitchell: First off, one of the things I share with few people is that I don't want to have people pay money and then they still can't get a job or get a return on their education. What we're doing is, we've reached out to several HR executives of our members and we've started a council with them. We've done some surveys, and we know what the job openings that are both at engineering level and operator level that are hard to fill. Now we're taking that information and our senior director of online training is working with the HR Executives Council to break each of those jobs into skill sets. That council is looking to answer questions like: “What are the skills that make up every one of those jobs?” Then we're going to look at the overlap of those skills across positions and those skills will be the first things that we're putting out there. That's how we're trying to do it; it is really skill set based. In the future, you'll have a skill set base, and then we'll also have learning tracks. We'll say, “Here's the training you need or the skill sets you need to become an ‘X’. If you want to advance past that, you need to add these skills” and we'll have a whole career development course library.

Matties: And so, when you look at the future, automation, automation, automation is what people talk about.

Mitchell: Exactly. If you can get this training through an automated fashion, why wouldn't you?

Matties: But when they talk about automation, they talk more about process and eliminating people, and the need for that.

Mitchell: They are eliminating some people, but they are also requiring higher skill levels that they can't find. So, for those people that they are eliminating, if we can get them to that higher skill level, even better. And you've got people who are loyal to your company already, if you can do it internally. Then if you can't retrain internally, you’ll have to find people from outside. Where we've seen success with organizations that partnered with us, they took people out of the food service industry, out of the financial services industry, who knew nothing about electronics. Using IPC materials and a little bit of their own, these newly trained people are now program managers and project managers, it's been fabulous.

Matties: I bet. Not just fabulous, but it's got to be rewarding.

Mitchell: Oh, exactly. My doctorate is in education, so guess what I love? I love nothing more than for people to sit there and say, “I want to be better or increase my skills or improve.” How do you do that? You do that through education. And it's not for everybody. Some people just want to sit there and do the same thing over and over. God Bless them, good for them. But for those that want to change, we want to offer opportunities.

Matties: Are you doing an automated online Khan Academy sort of thing?

Mitchell: That sort of thing. We hired a gentleman who had done this for another industry and basically built a university of online courses. They partnered with community colleges as well. We're looking to build something like that and we're at the beginning stages of it but you'll see some initiatives come out in 2018.

Matties: Are you sure you don't want to say it now?

Mitchell: Say what, now? “In 2018” doesn't mean January first. I've got a whole year! (Laughs) We're still trying to decide on skill sets, so until we know, we're not going to build. And then we'll test. So, we'll build some and we'll go out to the members and say, “Okay, is this right? How would you like this?” We want to involve the members more in this so that we're really making this something that they're going to value. They're part of the design team.

Matties: Well, it takes such a burden off them. The value of their membership goes up exponentially.

Mitchell: Exactly. We're also looking at government grants to help fund some of this. Where that happens, some of that training will be free. How's that sound? If you sign up and you're a small business, single site, you pay the $1,300 IPC membership fee. Guess what? You just got a training program for these 1−3 things that are free where there's government funding. That's huge!

Matties: That's really a shift in IPC's strategy, isn't it, to bring this sort of thinking?

Mitchell: A little bit, yes. It was not on the menu. We pretty much stuck to our training as certification-based and standards-based. But we've always done professional development. This is a spin on that, and a little bit more narrowly focused. As opposed to just a technical need, it's an industry need.

Matties: And not to belabor it, but professional development was really for people that were already in the industry. You're talking about taking people from outside the industry and creating a labor pool to draw from.

Mitchell: We're trying to reach people who have never been in the industry. We're also reaching out to university students. We're also going to be reaching out to high school and middle school students. It starts there. And right now, and I'm guilty of this as a parent, the answer is, "Oh, you've got to go to university and you've got to get your degree." You can go off and make a good living with the right certificate and never have gone to college. And guess what? Not be tethered by a cellphone 24/7, work 8 to 5, and make good money and have a life. How about that? There are very talented people who college may not be for them. We're looking to work with counselors and really get out there and understand. Now that's a big job. We'll start small and make sure we do it right in narrow-focused areas, but we're bringing on people to help us do that. And the board is fully supportive of this. If anything, they're saying, "Can you run any faster, John?"

Matties: I've been saying this recently, the fastest way to introduce new people, kids in particular, into our industry around circuit design, for example, is to come out with a video game that requires circuit design.

Mitchell: Or a hot TV show that shows exactly how cool this stuff is, because manufacturing has gotten a bad rep. I used to use the example, it's not like Laverne and Shirley looking for the rat in the bottle. It's clean, it's technology, it's cool stuff. We were just talking about this at lunch today and one of the comments was, "If a young kid comes in and he's hanging out with all his buddies and he goes, "Oh, what do you do?" "I work in manufacturing." They say, "Oh. So, you couldn't quite cut it in the real world, huh?" It's kind of the attitude yet they don't understand that, wow, actually they are doing all the real world high-tech work. They're having to understand quality. They're having to understand processes. They're using technology. This is a really cool thing, and it's clean. And instead of having to sit in a cubicle that's just three blank walls, you're building products and doing the same type of programming and working to change the world. It's really an exciting field.

Matties: That's exciting. Congratulations. Your passion comes through.

Mitchell: You didn't even ask me about it and I'm excited about it. We've got some good things coming that way. That's very exciting.

Matties: Let’s circle back to membership. We mentioned the 1000 members now in Asia. How do they measure the value here in Asia? Is it measured differently here?

Mitchell: No, I think it's the same. I think the members here are really starting to see the value. They just have to quantify it here more than we do in some parts of the world, although, we're going to be doing more of that everywhere as well. We continue to strive to be able to say, “Here's how much you saved by doing (insert program/product) with IPC." If anybody out there is willing to be part of a case study, we'd like to show (if you’ve got two identical lines) that if you put IPC-certified people on one line and just your regular Joes on the other one, which are perfectly good workers, then measure everything. We'd love to do that so we can say something like, "IPC saves you 4% on rework." Translate that across all the work you do and that's millions of dollars. Let us work with you and publish a case study that will help your brand as well since you volunteered your time and effort.

So, we're looking for those case studies as well. As part of this study I mentioned that we're doing, without even doing the case studies, people are volunteering their results because of the millions of dollars that we’ve saved for them. The longer you use IPC the more you'll see the real value that comes through. Look forward to those quotes. We don't even ask them for them. We say, "Write down your feelings about IPC’s value." And people are sharing amazing benefits they are and have been experiencing. I'm excited about it.

Matties: There's a generational shift going on in the industry too. I'm seeing millennials owning companies and businesses.

Mitchell: By 2020, more than 50% of all leadership positions in the U.S. will be held by millennials.

Matties: How does that play into your strategies for IPC?

Mitchell: It's part of modernization. We've got to be online. We've got to be communicating the way the leadership is used to communicating. It’s an exciting time, because new leaders are bringing different ideas and different priorities to the workplace.

Matties: A lot different.

Mitchell: In some ways. I think some of it is just a perception difference. Let's say you ask the older generation, the Baby Boomer generation. They still find the same things (like benefiting a charity) that the millennials find important, but they do it in different ways. The millennials are looking to meet some of those needs in a workplace environment. The Baby Boomers don't really care if the workplace provides it for them or not. They'll do it on their own if it's important. So that's a little bit of a shift.

Matties: Like you said, it's online, and it's technology. That's a lot different than what we do.

Mitchell: I walked into a meeting, one on one, and I was sharing some thoughts with one of my employees, and she's playing on her phone while I'm talking to her. That was my impression. She wasn't playing on her phone, she was taking notes. But I wanted to know that she was taking notes, as opposed to her texting somebody in the middle of our discussion.

Matties: I was in a meeting today and the exact same thing was happening. "What are you doing? Pay attention."

Mitchell: They're probably paying more attention than people who aren't doing it. So, there's some adjustment that’s required, and there are some weaknesses as well in the business place with some of the millennials that we've seen and studies have shown, so we're looking to bring education about that as well. To sit there and say, "Hey, if you're a millennial and you're coming to work for this company you might need some cultural adaptations." Instead, one might say, "If you're going to do this, you might want to communicate what you're doing or these types of actions might get you fired. And you might not care, but if you do care you might want to be aware."

Matties: I think the employers need to adjust, too. Because you can't do it this way because we've always done it that way.

Mitchell: That's right, because we're all getting older. People are retiring.

Matties: These are our replacements, and we need to embrace that. If we don't have a succession plan…

Mitchell: That's why I shared that stat. In 2020, 50% of all the leaders will be millennials. That's the leaders; that's not the workforce. There’s even more there. The other thing you need to think about is the demographics are different. More women are entering the workplace than men. I mean, in this industry, that's a big change. Our industry tends to be diverse culturally, it's not so diverse by gender. That's another change. So people need to figure out not only millennials in the workplace, but women in the workplace, and what they need and what they're looking for as well. If they want to have the best people, you're going to be hiring female millennials. So we're looking to provide things which will educate people and help them. If you're a business owner and you want to attract the best talent and that person is a female millennial, can you offer something that's even going to attract them to your workplace? If you don't, guess what? You're not going hire the best talent. Those are all opportunities.

Matties: You've had a lot success here in China, but what about America? What sort of growth are you seeing there?

Mitchell: IPC is having a great year this year in growth, membership is up. We're up to more than 4,300 total member sites now, and I think the U.S. is up 100 or 200 this year.

Matties: What do you attribute that to? Because over here you had Phil, you had a lot going on...

Mitchell: It all comes down to the value and communication.

Matties: It's about communicating the value.

Mitchell: Yes. We still need to get better at that. We still have members who join based on a standard being released. That's where education comes back into it. Education is a constant need, so we're looking to provide that as well.

Matties: And then what about Europe?

Mitchell: For Europe, we’re very excited. As you know, we opened the office two years ago. We're hiring two more people there: a standards expert and a government relations expert. With those hires, IPC continues to meet local language requirements, in local time zones. We're also looking to do customer service there locally, as well. Because when people have an issue they should be able to call and get services within their own time zone, in their own language.

We're a global organization. I mean, it makes me smile when people say, "Oh, you're a U.S. organization." Yeah, I guess. So is Coca-Cola, but they're everywhere. That's my goal. I want to be the Coca-Cola of the electronics industry.

Matties: It sounds like you're on your way. But you're laying down new value that hadn't been out there for your members.

Mitchell: And if there's other value that we're not seeing, we keep trying to ask the members. If people reading this (I know your readership is huge) have ideas about value that IPC could or you feel should be providing, we want to know about it.

For the second part of this interview, click here.