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Getting to Know Your Designer
In this issue, we examine how fabs work with their design customers, educating them on the critical elements of fabrication needed to be successful, as well as the many tradeoffs involved. How well do you really know your customer? What makes for a closer, more synchronized working relationship?
In this issue, the biggest names in PCB manufacturing share their economic outlook for the upcoming year and beyond. As you will see, they were all bullish on our industry, but there was some apprehension as well. No one wants to get burned by another the supply chain disruption.
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Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
The New Chapter
By Hannah Nelson & Paige Fiet
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The New Chapter: Easing the Learning Curve for Young Professionals
My first semester of college included a course on engineering fundamentals that focused on teamwork, problem-solving, ethics, and, of course, coding. I had no experience in coding. In fact, downloading the program to my laptop alone almost required visiting the IT department. This class was my second course on my first day of school. Shortly after the introductory speeches, we were asked to write a “simple” code that output the phrase, “Hello World.” Instant panic sets in as my other three team members started typing away. Was I supposed to have learned this in high school?
Throughout the rest of the semester, I stumbled my way through coding. It took multiple one-on-one sessions with the teaching assistant before I really understood why a semicolon was needed at the end of a command, let alone how to make a “for” loop. Now that I’m out of college, I understand this experience was not unique but something that many engineering students unfortunately experience. While some might say it built character, it was discouraging to feel behind from my very first day.
This story is not exclusive to the world of coding. It can be easily translated to the experience many of us have when first joining the electronics industry. The language used to describe features or defects is unique to the industry and can be just as intimidating as writing an “if” statement for a new coder. The knowledge required to be successful in the PCB world is not currently taught in high schools or most colleges. There is little outreach from companies to local schools to provide skills-based training and mentorship. Students are often left to teach themselves, assuming they can find their way into electronics before landing a full-time position. Even if students are taught electronics, these classes mainly focus on components and circuit analysis, not on choosing the right dielectric materials or surface finishes based on the end-use application.
To ease the learning curve for young professionals, we should move the on-ramp forward by a few years. Companies must focus more on high school and college students instead of waiting for recent college graduates to stumble into the electronics industry. Recruitment this early might look like after-school mentorship programs, funding electronics courses/labs, and hosting internships. These activities can give students a taste of what it’s like to work with electronics, who will then focus their coursework on a curriculum that benefits their future careers. These opportunities provide a competitive advantage when it’s time to apply for full-time positions.
Next, proper training programs need to be put in place. Companies with strong training programs create a strong support system for new hires. I believe a robust training program is the foundation for career success. These programs should include a point of contact for employees to ask questions, a trainer to work alongside them, and an onboarding track to teach general terms and definitions. Even new hires with some PCB experience won’t know it all. Employers must help fill these education gaps.
Along with training, there needs to be more engagement with the industry, not just within a company. Involving today’s youth in trade shows, for example, is a great way to engage them. These shows are breeding grounds for networking and innovation. Employees are able to meet like-minded individuals, both within their own company and others, who understand the hardships they face. The saying about taking a village to raise a child is the same for growing a professional career. Companies can also engage youth through clubs or events designed for their employees’ experience levels.
Finally, we will not gently ease young professionals into electronics without strong mentorship programs. The professional world may not come with teaching assistants, but it can come with mentors. IPC’s Emerging Engineer Program and other company-specific programs provide needed backing to individuals with little to no knowledge of electronics. A good mentor can be the trainer, but it is better when the mentor is not directly involved with the employee's day-to-day responsibilities. Mentors provide answers to “silly” questions as well as guidance to all that the industry entails. I would argue that mentorships are the most critical agent a company can use.
Most students entering their careers in electronics feel just as underwater in their first weeks and months as I did that first semester learning how to code. Without formal learning opportunities or mentorship programs, these budding professionals will be left to flounder and may not stick around to figure it out. Attracting youth to the industry is the first step, but maintaining and growing that pipeline is another. I’ve already seen some great examples from companies that are successfully attracting and maintaining talent. More companies must follow suit, or we may lose more generations of really qualified candidates. Our future depends on it.
This column originally appeared in the January 2024 issue of PCB007 Magazine.
More Columns from The New ChapterThe New Chapter: My Review of Happy Holden’s ‘24 Essential Skills for Engineers’
The New Chapter: Teach the Terminology
The New Chapter: Reimagining PCB Design in Education
The New Chapter: The Pros and Cons of Tribal Knowledge
The New Chapter: Smoothing the Rocky Road of Onboarding
The New Chapter: Four Steps to Developing an Improvement Process
The New Chapter: It’s a Brave, New Workforce
The New Chapter: A Mini Manufacturing Ecosystem