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Pride in the Workforce

Are you tapping all the opportunities in your labor market?

For US electronics manufacturing services (EMS) providers, the only thing in shorter supply than long lead-time components is labor. Decades of manufacturing job losses translate to a generation of workers who don’t consider manufacturing jobs because they don’t know anyone in manufacturing. EMS companies are addressing this in multiple ways including job enlargement for existing workers, greater use of automation and closer ties with community colleges. Flexible work schedules better aligned with college student or single-parent schedule preferences have also been successful tactics. In areas with large retired populations, flexible work schedules may also appeal to retirees who are feeling inflationary pressures to re-enter the workforce and want better compensation than found in retail.

Recently, I had a discussion with Andrew Williams, engineering manager at Pride Industries’ EMS operation in Roseville, CA. Pride Industries’ mission is to create employment for people with disabilities. Pride Industries was founded in 1966 in the basement of a church in Auburn, CA, by a group of parents of young adults with developmental disabilities who wanted their grown children to have purpose and experience the dignity of a paycheck. Today, Pride Industries operates across 15 states plus Washington, DC, and is the leading employer of people with disabilities in the nation.

The EMS division was started in the 1990s as a job shop performing through-hole assembly with a slide line for a customer that had a product that represented a perfect production flow for adding inexperienced production workers with disabilities. Today, the division has grown to a full-service EMS company with two SMT lines producing a variety of products including Class II medical devices. It employs more than 100 people in production and recruits from a labor pool referred by state and regional agencies. Most of those workers have some form of a disability that has limited their job opportunities.

People with disabilities are one of the most underrepresented groups in the labor force. One in five Americans has a disability, and two-thirds of working-age Americans with disabilities are unemployed. Pride Industries’ EMS division is successfully creating jobs for people in this labor market and has services to help other companies that wish to hire more people with disabilities. This choice is not without tradeoffs, however, Williams points out.

In Pride Industries’ EMS model, some job descriptions have been narrowed to better align with employees whose disabilities limit their range of skill sets. That said, employees with narrow skill sets often perform their assigned tasks with a level of focus and repeatability not found in the workforce at large. From a manufacturing engineering standpoint, there is strong focus on Lean manufacturing principles including developing fixtures, tooling and jigs to support integrating employees with disabilities into production jobs. That focus also increases quality and efficiency in the production line. Employees with disabilities work at all levels of the company, including production supervision. Turnover is typically lower because the company tailors its policies to the needs of employees with disabilities. However, employees may need greater accommodations in work scheduling due to medical appointments, flexibility with breaks, or technical assistance.

Pride Industries’ model also aligns closely with state agencies that place people with disabilities. It provides services to employees with disabilities that can include counseling and job coaching, coordinating benefits and work, and providing monthly reports on work performance, etc. This activity is funded through a state program.

Will hiring people with disabilities solve every EMS company’s labor shortage? No. Focusing on this underrepresented segment of the labor market does two things, however. First, it changes lives. Many people with disabilities simply need the right opportunity to become productive members of society. Second, it helps reduce unemployment. Just as Lean manufacturing sees underutilization of production resources as one of the seven wastes, chronic unemployment of people who would work if an opportunity were available is the worst kind of societal waste. 

Pride Industries also provides services to companies looking to structure employment programs that help them successfully employ people with disabilities. Its EMS division is proving that this model can work in a full-service EMS model. For more information on these services, contact Pride Industries.

Properly structured, employing people with disabilities is a win for the employees, the company and the surrounding community that changes lives, reduces community safety net costs, and provides a measurable social program to a company’s ESG framework. 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 Service.;