Why it’s time to value talent over tools.
“Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Considering the perils of our industry, one could say that anyone engaged in the design, fabrication or assembly of printed circuit boards is doing it as much out of a sense of love as any other reason. That love is not always returned in kind; many have flirted with cutting-edge technology in their attempt to gain mastery over the PCB, only to fail miserably.
Technology is much like the stereotypical fickle lover: constantly changing and glitteringly alluring, but equally demanding and ultimately independent enough to leave you in a lurch. If technology is fickle, manufacturing is the reality check anchor that ties down the starry-eyed lover with its challenges of producing glittery technology, all via processes and equipment that all too often have been pushed beyond their intended capability. Too often the recipe is as capable of causing severe indigestion as it is in delivering scrumptious success.
All of which makes our industry fascinating, challenging and a bit intoxicating. Ours is one of the most creative industries going. Our individual and collective creativity are the backbone for the end-products that represent that technology. The skills, attitude, tenacity and out-of-the-box creativity that each and every large and small business, regardless of geographic location, demands of staff and leadership are nothing short of amazing!
Regrettably, society does not necessarily share that view of our industry, technology or manufacturing. That may well be an Achilles heel for all of us, or it could be an “opportunity knocks, but only you can open the door” flirtatious allure for the young and old seeking a career that feeds as much off of love as it does ability.
When I look at the short- and long-term risks for my company, none is more significant than the absence of good, available people to fill open positions. For years, if not decades, at any industry gathering the lack of qualified individuals is always high on the list of concerns. Today, as I worry about sales, cash flow and all the normal yet essential challenges to deal with, they pale in comparison with the overwhelming shortage of available talent that not just threatens us today but also threatens our long-term viability.
Why do we have such a problem finding and retaining talent – especially the next generation of talent to ensure our industry is viable over time? I believe there are three basic reasons, all being extremely simple to understand but excessively difficult to deal with. The first and simplest is pay rates. Too many of us nickel-and-dime the workers, so the best ones pass us over. This is the quintessential penny-wise, pound-foolish approach. If we want dedicated talent, we need to pay commensurately.
Second is our collective denial that even our entry-level, base hourly employee requires skill and knowledge to perform their job. By “skill” I mean a strong education in basic math, reasoning and communication skills. A sharp high school, vocational/tech school or community college graduate should have those skills and we should seek them out – even if they have never seen a circuit board – rather than paying peanuts for someone who may know what a PCB is but can’t add, subtract or communicate effectively.
Finally, too many of us veterans, while in love with our industry, behave more like jaded lovers who have forgotten what it’s like to be young and in love with that magic we call technology. Ours is an industry that demands creativity. We need to sell its sexiness to the next generation, that we reward experience and knowledge and most important, outside-the-box thinking, which is not jut accepted but needed!
Fixing short- and long-term staffing shortages is not going to happen automagically by a school or college deciding to focus on training students for our industry. The underemployed looking for a “job” is not going to have an epiphany and suddenly dedicate themselves to a career in our industry. The local recruiter is not going to enthusiastically sway a candidate considering multiple job offers to choose the one in PCBs. The only way any of these things is going to happen is when we all begin to focus on selling the positives of our industry as well as our individual companies. Equally, we are not going to have a solid, world-class, long-term workforce – individually or collectively – until we openly discuss and actively demonstrate a commitment to seeking the brightest talent possible, vs. hiring the person who will work for the lowest pay possible.
We all can attest that technology is ever-changing, while the equipment we use to produce that technology is basically stagnant. The design criteria and incorporation of software into our daily personal and professional lives is growing exponentially. And finally, while many resources are limited, the one that has historically propelled our industry and all that it has produced has been talent. Without effective, motivated talent, the future looks quite grim. Short of collectively changing the way our industry is too often perceived, attracting that talent will be even more difficult. Ergo, we must together remember – and project – that our industry has an enviable record of nurturing as well as rewarding passion and creativity. It is time we introduce the next generation to all that can be done when skills, attitude, passion and creativity are embraced.