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There is an ever-growing shortage of experienced professionals in our field. Whether it’s PCB design, fabrication, or assembly, finding the right seasoned professionals is a serious problem. Actually, it’s more than a problem because there just are not as many industry professionals as there used to be.
Many have changed careers but the most significant reason for this lack of talented people is that so many are aging out and retiring, and only a very few are following in their footsteps.
We seem to have skipped at least two generations of backfilling with younger people in our ranks. We have not taken the time to create a career path for those entering our industry. We’ve also done a poor job at recruiting and an even worse job at growing our own.
Back in the day, companies would put a person on a career path the minute they were hired. When I joined Rockwell International’s Maine Electronics, for example, I was put on a career path, as were all the young people they hired. The folks at Rockwell assumed you were there for life. We felt like we had just enlisted in a career, not merely a job.
We were observed, mentored, and advised on what career path would be best for us. In fact, of the five who were hired for entry positions the same week I was, four of us spent the rest of our careers in the industry. Two continued to careers in PCB engineering, one into quality, and you know where I ended up.
Rockwell was not unique in this focus of growing its own. It seemed like most companies took the time to nurture their future leaders. Much of our annual review was focused not only on how we were doing with our current positions, but what our hopes, dreams, and plans were for the future with the company. Our supervisors advised us on where we should aim our sights, goals to set, and how we could achieve those goals. There was a basic assumption that we would spend the rest of our professional careers in our industry.
Times have changed. Most companies in our industry haven’t taken the time to focus on the future and develop their leadership for that future.
There used to be an element of pride of product. We were repeatedly told that we were doing important, life changing work. When you think about everything we worked on, the products we were building—defense and aerospace products, all sizes of computers, medical electronics, and more—we were proud to be working on such important products.
Now we face a true dilemma. I know at least nine companies that are looking for quality managers, and likely there are more looking for experienced engineers. Operations people, from department to general manager, are at a premium. It gets even more difficult to find one without an AARP card, and if you find that rare one, you will have to convince them to relocate. Good luck with that—especially if you want them to relocate to a place that features this thing called … snow.
Except in a few rare cases, the only choice for staffing our businesses with professionals is to grow them. You must find the best candidate among your own ranks. Nurture, mentor, and teach them, or hire candidates with the qualifications, ambition, and desire to dedicate their future to our industry. Not an easy task, but certainly far from impossible.
Here are three ways to successfully grow our own leaders of tomorrow:
- Demonstrate that we are an important industry, one that they can be proud to be part of. We are an industry with a long tradition of building important, world-changing products from the space shuttle to computers, electric cars, and so much more. If you think about it, our industry has played a significant role in all the world’s major innovative developments in the last 70 years. It’s a little overwhelming to look back, but just think about where we can go from here.
- Show them a career that can be financially rewarding. Incoming customer service people are making more than starting teachers. PCB designers earn in the six figures, as do engineers, operations, and quality people. There is a bright future for the right candidates.
- Develop well-planned and well-executed training programs for everyone we hire. Go back to the days when companies were willing to invest in their people, knowing that their people were their future. From the minute someone is hired, put them on a career path that includes mentoring, training, educating, and encouraging. Make sure they understand that if they apply themselves, they can create a fine future.
It's really not that complicated if you think about it. And for obvious reasons…
It’s only common sense.
Dan Beaulieu is president of D.B. Management Group.