One World, One Industry: Skilled Talent—Can We Meet Rising Demand?

December 2007 marked the start of the Great Recession, which was followed by the loss of more than 8 million jobs, half the value of the Dow Jones 500, and trillions of dollars in retirement accounts. One decade later, America’s economy experienced 3% growth[1], building on one of the longest economic expansions in the United States since World War II[2]. In 2018, the U.S. GDP is expected to continue its rise, while unemployment rates are expected to drop further. Experts agree that the global economy is also showing signs of strengthening.

The Economist Intelligencer[3] attributes this to lax monetary policy around the world and accelerated growth in China, Japan, and the Euro zone.

Naturally, this growth is expected to buoy the manufacturing industry. In fact, our industry is forecast to increase faster than the general economy[4]. A recent survey[5] by IPC revealed a bullish outlook for most segments of the electronics industry, especially for equipment manufacturers and PCB fabricators. Although this progress is promising, a major challenge looms over us: Does our industry have enough skilled talent to meet rising demands and does this talent have the right skills?

According to a study by the Manufacturing Institute, over the next decade, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs are expected to become available in the United States. But more than 2 million of those jobs will remain unfilled due to a lack of available skilled talent. Another survey[6] of IPC companies found that most are having a hard time recruiting qualified production workers, and an even harder time finding qualified engineers and other technical professionals.


Executives also noted[4] a lack of problem-solving skills, basic technical training, and math skills. This common lack of foundational skills has an unfortunate impact on manufacturing companies across the nation.

To address this issue, IPC offered its support for the Apprenticeship and Jobs Training Act (S.1352)[7] as well as the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (H.R. 2353)[8]. Both aim to support career education programs which prepare workers to fill highly skilled manufacturing jobs. Previously, I’ve written[9] that combating the skills gap would be no small feat. But, we can start by taking a critical look at our education system. For several years, U.S. high school students have ranked below average when it comes to math and science. Only 40% of U.S. high schools offer advanced science courses like physics, according to an Education Week Research Center analysis. Among the students that  pursue a STEM major in college, only half actually pursue a STEM career post-graduation.

These statistics are a stark reminder that science, technology, engineering and math education should be a national priority. It is our duty to introduce STEM topics as early as possible, both at home and in the classroom. To that end, during IPC APEX EXPO 2018, we will introduce a STEM outreach program[10] for high school students. This year, students from two San Diego high schools will have the chance to attend IPC APEX EXPO, learn about various career options within the electronics manufacturing industry, take part in panel discussions with industry experts, and participate in a private tour of the show floor.

Organizations like the STEM Education Coalition[11], of which IPC is a proud member, are working to inform federal and state policymakers on the vital role that STEM education plays in the future of economic success.

Among its core policy principals, the STEM Education Coalition believes that effective policies that promote STEM education should be a bipartisan national priority. Currently, educational policies such as the “Common Core” standards, which have been adopted by more than 40 states, cover only language and math, not science. There must be a state-based effort to implement not just Common Core Math but also Next Generation Science Standards, among other college- and career-ready standards in STEM fields.

Culturally, there is a long-standing, but false, notion that the only “successful” education is a traditional four-year degree from a university. While a growing number of colleges across the country are offering world-class STEM majors, technical and trade schools are also a viable option for students. Many noble and lucrative careers can be had by those who learn trades and technical specialties. To ensure that America’s economy remains competitive on a global scale, we must raise the educational bar and build a stronger emphasis on STEM education and technical training.

In an effort to better address a growing skills gap, and to ensure access to relevant training for a larger global population, IPC launched IPC EDGE[12], a new cloud-based learning management system in July 2016. IPC EDGE delivers the education needed to acquire and develop the competitive skills necessary to excel in the electronics industry. Through white papers, webinars, IPC standards, skill development and foundation courses, users gain the flexibility to learn the skills needed to advance their careers and improve the industry. Currently, IPC EDGE consists of dozens of IPC’s most popular courses. This library is continually growing as additional courses are created regularly. From entry level personnel to executives, IPC EDGE users are provided with knowledge that will support learning goals that applied directly to their work. This includes preparation for CIS (Certified IPC Specialist) certification, the most recognized IPC certification in the electronics industry.

IPC EDGE courses instruct on topics such as: Electrostatic Discharge (ESD), Control for Electronics Assembly, Introduction to Hand Soldering, FOD Prevention in Electronics Assembly, Surface Mount Solder Joint Quality Standards, Counterfeit Components, and Component Identification, among many others. New courses are in development to provide the knowledge and skills needed to prepare the next generation of workers for success in the electronics industry and close today’s skill gap.


1. U.S. third-quarter economic growth fastest in three years, Reuters, Nov. 29, 2017.
2. Current U.S. economic recovery may end up as longest ever, MarketWatch, July 19, 2016.
3. The pace of growth in the global economy is unlikely to be sustained, The Economist, December 13, 2017.
4. The Skills Gap in the U.S. Manufacturing, 2015 and Beyond, Deloitte Manufacturing Institute.
5. IPC Pulse Survey Reveals Bullish Outlook for Equipment and PCB Manufacturers, October 26, 2017.
6. IPCs U.S. Skills Gap Study Reveals Skills and Qualifications in Short Supply, April 27, 2017.
7. 115th Congress/Senate Bill S.1352 – Apprenticeship and Jobs Training Act of 2017.
8. H.R. 5587–Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act.
9. One World, One Industry: Three Ways to Close the Skills Gap in U.S. Manufacturing.
10. IPC to Launch STEM Outreach Program at IPC APEX EXPO 2018.
11. STEM Education Coalition.

John Mitchell is president and CEO of IPC—Association Connecting Electronics Industries. To read past columns or to contact Mitchell, click here.



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