One World, One Industry: Pursuing New Solutions to the Electronics Sectors’ Skills Gap

As I have written here before, the skills gap is a chronic problem in the American electronics manufacturing sector.

In a recent survey of our U.S. member companies[1], most said they have a hard time finding local talent to run their businesses. Respondents cited many essential skills that are in short supply, but the most common ones are soldering for production jobs, and engineers with industry experience, especially in process, test, and quality control. Making matters even more challenging, as new innovations emerge, new skills requirements emerge as well.

According to the National Skills Coalition, 53% of U.S. jobs are “middle skill,” meaning they require some form of post-secondary education and training beyond high school, but not necessarily a four-year degree. Yet, only 43% of U.S. workers are trained at this level. Recognizing this challenge, IPC has for years been a leading provider of many education and training opportunities[2] that benefit the  electronics sector. Earlier this year, we introduced IPC EDGE, a new online learning management system to provide education to the electronics industry workforce.

But our industry cannot overcome the skills gap all by ourselves. That’s why we are constantly advocating for better public policies to address the skills gap. Most recently, we endorsed the Apprenticeship and Jobs Training Act (S. 1352)[3], a bipartisan bill introduced by Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Maria Cantwell (D-Washington).

Apprenticeship programs are a proven model of workforce development, allowing workers to earn an income while they learn and companies to increase the skills of their workforce.

According to the Urban Institute, more than 80% of U.S. companies that already have registered apprenticeships say it is an effective strategy for helping them meet their demand for skilled labor, and 94% would recommend it as a strategy to other employers[4].

The Collins-Cantwell proposal would establish the first-ever federal incentives for companies to establish such programs. Specifically, the bill would create a $5,000 tax credit for up to three years for companies that hire and pay employees enrolled in a federal- or state-registered apprentice program, as well as allow senior employees near retirement to draw from pensions early if they are involved in mentoring or training new employees.

In addition, the act will help veterans get into skilled jobs that match their military experience by allowing them to count previous military training toward apprenticeship program requirements.

To encourage more inter-generational transfer of skills, the bill would allow individuals near retirement to make early withdrawals from their pensions if they are involved in mentoring or training new employees. To qualify, older workers must be at least 55 and must spend at least 20% of their time training or educating employees or students.

In late July, I had the opportunity to meet with Senator Cantwell’s senior staff in Washington, D.C. to express IPC’s support for this bill. And in the months to come, we will be working to encourage additional senators to cosponsor the act.

Meanwhile, in June, IPC applauded when President Trump signed an executive order directing federal officials to take several actions to promote apprenticeships and remove regulations that could be an obstacle to them.

Specifically, the executive order:

  • Directs the Department of Labor (DOL) to allow companies, trade associations, and unions to develop their own “industry-recognized apprenticeship” guidelines, which the DOL will review for quality and then approve
  • Directs the DOL to use available funding to promote apprenticeships, especially in sectors where apprenticeships are not currently widespread
  • Creates a federal task force that will recommend ways to promote apprenticeships
  • Requires all federal agencies to review and evaluate the effectiveness of their job training programs, and consider how to best consolidate certain programs for increased accountability companies that hire and pay employees enrolled in a federal- or state-registered apprentice program, as well as allow senior employees near retirement to draw from pensions early if they are involved in mentoring or training new employees.

In addition, the act will help veterans get into skilled jobs that match their military experience by allowing them to count previous military training toward apprenticeship program requirements.

To encourage more inter-generational transfer of skills, the bill would allow individuals near retirement to make early withdrawals from their pensions if they are involved in mentoring or training new employees. To qualify, older workers must be at least 55 and must spend at least 20% of their time training or educating employees or students.

In late July, I had the opportunity to meet with Senator Cantwell’s senior staff in Washington, D.C. to express IPC’s support for this bill. And in the months to come, we will be working to encourage additional senators to cosponsor the act.

Meanwhile, in June, IPC applauded when President Trump signed an executive order directing federal officials to take several actions to promote apprenticeships and remove regulations that could be an obstacle to them.

Specifically, the executive order:

  • Directs the Department of Labor (DOL) to allow companies, trade associations, and unions to develop their own “industry-recognized apprenticeship” guidelines, which the DOL will review for quality and then approve
  • Directs the DOL to use available funding to promote apprenticeships, especially in sectors where apprenticeships are not currently widespread
  • Creates a federal task force that will recommend ways to promote apprenticeships
  • Requires all federal agencies to review and evaluate the effectiveness of their job training programs, and consider how to best consolidate certain programs for increased accountability

IPC also focused on workforce skills in a series of meetings this summer with industry allies and federal officials including Deputy Assistant Secretary for Education for Career, Technical, and Adult Education Kim Ford.

In Europe, IPC is working in support of the European Union’s “New Skills Agenda,” which is encouraging cooperation between employers, universities, and local authorities in bridging the skills gap in several specific sectors, including advanced manufacturing.

Naturally, it remains to be seen whether these initiatives will bring about meaningful results. But the expanding efforts we’re seeing in the United States and Europe are an encouraging sign of progress to come.

To our American IPC members and friends, please help us help you by contacting your local members of Congress and expressing your support of the Collins-Cantwell legislation and the Trump administration’s apprenticeship initiatives.

Also, please let us know about your experiences and insights with worker training and education efforts. We’re eager to share knowledge and shine a spotlight on our members’ good works.

References

1. Findings on the Skills Gap in U.S. Electronics Manufacturing, IPC bookstore (must be purchased).
2. IPC, Education, Training & Certification
3. Apprenticeship and Jobs Training Act (S. 1352)
4. The Benefits and Challenges of Registered Apprenticeship: The Sponsors’ Perspective, Urban Institute.

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

This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of The PCB Magazine.

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2017

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2016

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