Ask the Experts: Replacing the Retiring 'Graybeards'


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Q: Our company’s senior designers and EEs, including me, are heading for retirement and pickleball. How can we attract new/young people into PCB design?

Heidi Barnes: Give young people the tools and resources they need to be creative and push them to do something new and innovative. Access to a variety of EE CAD tools and a well-equipped lab can be a game changer.

Rick Hartley: Most future designers will be EEs who do their own layout. Everyone I have talked to who is both a circuit engineer and a PC board designer has told me that PCB design (except in the case of very simple boards) is the harder of the two disciplines. That being the case, maybe companies need to get off the dime and offer a much higher salary to engineers who are willing to actively take on both disciplines. The days of “designers” who are not degreed EEs are fading fast. The future designer will be an EE and PCB designer in one package. Those folks deserve a higher wage.

Eric Bogatin: By funding scholarships for engineers who want to study PCB and high-speed digital design.

Cherie Litson: Go to your local colleges and the continuing education department. Get involved. I’m partially retired and I love teaching basic electronics and doing special presentations on DFM to those who want to improve their career options. Some of these people will eventually become PCB design engineers. Schools love this. Be on an advisory board. You get great perks and only have to attend one to four meetings a year.

Lee Ritchey: Attracting people into PCB design is a very tough sell. There are too many other offers out there that promise big pay and stock options.

Stephen Chavez: Let’s face it: Major universities today are in the business of making money and that includes getting research grants both from the private and government sectors. PCB design education alone is simply not a big enough draw for such funding. Those of us who have been in the industry for several decades remember when a career in PCB design came with very little respect. That mentality had gotten us where we are today. The industry is lacking the next generation of engineers for printed circuit engineering. Just look how many job postings there are nowadays. There are more design jobs open than I have ever seen in my career.

Today’s PCB designer is not like yesteryear’s “draftsman.” Today, that individual is so much more and requires an engineer-level education, and a broader understanding of design, fabrication, and assembly—along with the unique skillset of PCB design. A career in PCB design can be both fulfilling and lucrative, dependent on one’s education, skill set, and experience.

My advice is to simply get involved within industry associations such as the Printed Circuit Engineering Association (PCEA), IPC, SMTA, IEEE, etc. I’d even go one step further; I believe senior-level engineers and designers need to step up and volunteer some time in local STEM programs at local colleges or high schools. Because most major universities lack PCB design curriculum or refuse to add it to their existing EE curriculum, the industry is now paying for it and will continue to pay for it as designers head for retirement. The younger generation simply does not know what they don’t know, and a career in PCB design is one of those things they simply are not aware of.

IPC is heavily involved in many STEM programs throughout the industry. PCEA, a newer organization, has made “Collaborate, Educate, and Inspire” the core of its existence. PCEA has had its printed circuit engineering curriculum and certification program established within the industry, and in several major universities to date. PCEA hopes to get this curriculum implemented worldwide in every major college and university within the respective EE curriculum.

Finding those next generation PCB designers will be a challenge, especially if major universities and colleges will not implement PCB design as part of their engineering curriculum. So, I feel it’s up to each of us senior-level engineers and designers to do our part to pass on this knowledge to the younger generations any way we can.

Carl Schattke: Pay more. Actually, it’s not so much about that as it is about inspiring young people with the joy of solving hard problems that bring useful products to the marketplace. Few people get to go home at the end of the day and say, “I did that.” It’s one of the key reasons that engineers are some of the hardest working of all professions, but also one of the happiest of all professions. My core belief is that the more we help others, the more rewarded we are. Engineers can really help a lot of people because we design it once and many can use it, and many can profit from it.

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