Focus on Business

Meeting the Challenge of EMS Workforce Shortages

Employee recruitment and retention require an active company effort.

It’s no secret that a tight labor market is an issue in all segments of the electronics manufacturing services (EMS) industry. A large part of this is the result of manufacturing offshoring trends. When I entered the workforce, I had friends and relatives who worked or had worked in manufacturing-related careers, influencing my choice to work for an EMS company. That isn’t the case today.

A few years ago, I participated in a local manufacturing awareness day targeted at high school students participating in their schools’ robotics programs. I put together a short video that illustrated manufacturing processes and careers in the EMS industry. Even students interested in engineering careers weren’t thinking about manufacturing engineering or hardware engineering. Most were focused on software engineering with an eye on getting jobs at Google or some other highly visible tech employer.

This underscores the value of educational outreach programs at the high school and community college level, when young people are making career decisions. Similarly, this also underscores the need for considering the lack of workplace familiarity that entry-level employees are likely to have in their first manufacturing job. One of my clients, Electronic Design & Manufacturing, is conducting that outreach and education successfully in its community, and I thought it might be a good example to share.

The team at EDM has been working with Central Virginia Community College (CVCC) on paid college-level internships for over a decade. In 2022, the EMS provider also began offering unpaid high school internships to students from the mechatronics program at the Lynchburg Regional Governor’s XLR8 STEM Academy at CVCC. High school students receive educational credit for time spent in the internship and are dual enrolled in high school and CVCC programs. Under terms of the partnership, they are not allowed to work on direct manufacturing tasks but do get exposure to the skills and technical education required for a range of positions.

As an example, one semester’s interns worked with the test engineering team developing test fixtures. They focused on test capability enhancement projects that had lower priorities for adoption due to resource limitations. As part of their initial assignment, they optimized the connection methodology to enable the fixture to automatically connect with pogo pins. Their assignment included using Fusion360 to create a template for 3-D printing of required parts. Their work on the first fixture cut test time in half. They were assigned to more advanced projects for the rest of their internship.

These projects help train the interns on a range of engineering tools, while providing lessons learned (and course credit) on the engineering strategies they explore. At the same time, their work enables more enhancement projects to be completed, benefiting this EMS provider and its customers. As an added benefit, because the company is 100% employee-owned, the students also get introduced to the benefits of the employee owner model vs. more typical employment options.

This EMS provider also offers paid internships to local university students from time to time. The most recent intern has completed a degree in electrical engineering and is now working full-time at the company as a sales engineer.

The issue of new employee unfamiliarity with a manufacturing environment is also well addressed. This EMS provider has a robust 90-day onboarding program for entry-level employees, utilizing a staffing agency for initial recruitment and offering full-time positions to employees successfully completing the 90-day onboarding period. In the first month, training includes use of IPC’s Electronics Assembly for Operators program. The company’s facility includes a Center for Excellence training center which includes all the equipment needed to train employees on hand tools, soldering stations and ESD-safe mechanical assembly, plus online access to instruction via IPC’s platform and remote instructors.

Training is divided into manageable segments, so employees spend the balance of their time applying what they are learning. The remaining two months are focused on guided skills training for whatever role the employee has been hired into. Oversight is reduced in the last month as employees become proficient in their skills. Full-time employees receive continuing skills training based on a comprehensive skills matrix. Employee competencies and completion of required courses for their assigned roles are tracked by date and recertification or refresher training may be scheduled as required.

While these examples are not unique in the EMS industry, they illustrate best practices in dealing with the challenges of a tight labor market. Educational partnerships, effective onboarding programs and continuing education processes are critical in attracting and retaining a skilled workforce within the EMS industry.Article ending bug

Susan Mucha is president of Powell-Mucha Consulting Inc. (, a consulting firm providing strategic planning, training and market positioning support to EMS companies and author of Find It. Book It. Grow It. A Robust Process for Account Acquisition in Electronics Manufacturing Services. She can be reached at