Speaking, as we were last month, about the current environment for electronics production, we noted the well-publicized layoffs at several blue-chip companies. Tech brands such as HP, Dell and Microsoft all announced pending workforce reductions through direct cuts and attrition ranging from 4,000 up to 12,000.
But insofar as the electronics design to manufacturing supply chain is concerned, jobs are plentiful and hiring proceeds apace. That’s according to several tech recruiters and job search experts we spoke with last month.
In fact, companies in our space are ramping recruiting for positions at all levels, from techs to upper management. And some new trends are appearing, especially as firms look to gain a tighter hold on hard-won customers.
Search firm StepBeyond founder John Myers is perhaps the best-known recruiter in electronics. He called the recently concluded first quarter “probably the strongest Q1 I’ve seen in my 30 years in recruiting.”
“Everyone has grown and has business,” he says.
But that’s not to say the hiring process is linear, where needed skills neatly fit with candidates of the precise experience sought. The low unemployment rates, lack of standardized training programs such as vocational schools, and newly sought-after job perks such as remote work have human resource specialists broadening their searches.
As Zach Swartz, founder and recruiter at ZZ Recruitment explains, “Players are looking for the right set of skills for electronics manufacturing, and also as we move into new times, culture is a big thing. Managers want teams that work well together. They want people to be creative and have a voice.”
If anything, Myers and Swartz agree, Covid reinforced the employee-employer bond. Even during Covid, employers were trying to retain talent. “If you hadn’t told me there was a pandemic, I wouldn’t have known it,” Myers said. “People were still hiring and trying to grow.”
Curiously, while the pandemic may have accelerated some HR trends, the underlying shift was underway long before the virus hit. The fallback conversation at industry get-togethers was always, where are the young people? Yet according to the recruiters, we are a decade into a replacement wave, with some distinct differences from prior eras. However, they diverge – modestly – about the tendency for electronics companies to source human capital outside the industry.
Swartz says “some companies” are open to training workers from other industries but often the urgency for staffing up outstrips the timeline for transition.
Myers has a somewhat different take. “About 10 years ago, we increasingly saw more people being hired out of college with a few years of experience,” he says. “Now I see hiring people with credentials and aptitude from other industries, not just with EMS experience.” He points to better experienced staff that can afford to onboard workers who need additional training or time to learn new skills.
Both agree the market is strong across the country, which Myers credits in part to the arrival of a new generation of younger businesspeople who want to grow in the industry. Myers pointed to growth in regions that hadn’t been active, like Pennsylvania. Swartz, whose firm is more oriented toward the Western US, said managers are looking to relocate to Nevada and Texas from California, often for tax reasons.
Only one group seems to be an outlier. Says Myers: “About 10 years ago, EMS companies started hiring business development managers. Now every department is hiring, except business development. Instead of business development, something is happening that I haven’t seen in many years: they are hiring account management. They are looking for the farmers; people who can manage and grow the accounts that have been brought out.”
What about all those layoffs at Meta, Microsoft and the like? Myers downplays the impact, calling manufacturing “almost not the same ecosystem” as the Fortune 50 tech firms.
“Those are really advertising companies, when you get down to it,” he says.
Swartz agrees. “There’s a definite distinction between [Big Tech and manufacturing]. If you are hiring for IT, and willing to offer remote, there are lots of people in the Silicon Valley with very strong skill sets available. Insofar as electronics manufacturing, however, layoffs have been minimal.”
Asked for their prediction for the electronics job market for the rest of 2023, both recruiters chuckled. The past isn’t always prologue, it seems.
Myers recalled the early 2000s when the head of a major EMS kept reassuring industry analysts that improvements were coming the next quarter, before finally giving up in the face of ongoing volatility, simply stating: “We have no visibility.”
“Nothing is predictable anymore. This part of the year there will be a lot of movement, a lot of jobs. People can get the job they want, doing what they want. My concern is that in the later part of the year it will be really hard to find people as everyone moves around. As we grow, there’s no more people. They will have to hire fresh graduates or people from other industries and train them – if you can find them.”
Yet they remain hopeful. “With the CHIPS Act and everything with that bringing the realization to the government that it’s the whole electronics ecosystem,” Myers concludes, “I think we are seeing this resurgence in manufacturing and hopefully that will lead into increased education, and universities and trade schools training more people to stock these factories.”
P.S. For a firsthand take on the health of the industry, not to mention the best training for electronics design and manufacturing on the US East Coast, check out PCB East (pcbeast.com).
Over 60 hours of training and education, plus a one-day trade show on May 10 featuring more than 50 leading suppliers from across the design, fabrication and assembly industries.