Changing of the Guard

The industry’s next generation is on the rise.

I am continually amazed at how many people I see and run into at each industry meeting or event – especially at technical meetings when I’m watching people leave one room and enter another for the next session. It strikes me a bit like watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace – people leave one room to enter the next to do the same thing, and repeat!

One thing that makes our industry so strong and enduring is having so many people work together to contribute to developing and refining technologies, writing standards for those technologies and processes, and sharing their knowledge with others to fully understand those technologies and standards. And then as they say, “repeat.”

Over the past couple years, I have noticed some changes. At first, I presumed that these changes – many of them subtle – were because of, or in some way related to, adjustments to the Covid world. More recently, however, I have realized that the changes observed were occurring for a far more fundamental reason: the passing of time!

What changes had I observed over the past several years? Simply that some of the old familiar faces – also known as “the usual suspects,” whom I have known for years, if not decades – who attend events and move from room to room to either run a technical session or lead a committee were passing the proverbial baton to new, younger people. Yes, new faces were emerging on the scene. Together with those who have been the bedrock of our industry, they are ushering in the next generation of technical industry experts.

Change does appear to be taking place, and in this case, I believe the changes bode well for the future of our industry. As in the past, new people are engaged in the technical challenges of the moment, and after learning from and working side-by-side with more seasoned industry leaders, those new additions are charting the technological course to keep our industry in a leadership position.

While chatting with some of those I have known for years, they will comment about someone who is “really sharp” or “thinking outside the box with some really interesting ideas.” I imagine others in the past may have said the same about those of my generation who have been leading the charge for so long. What is so interesting to me is seeing everyone working cross-functionally, as well as cross-generationally, for the betterment of the industry. Such respect and camaraderie have long been hallmarks of our industry, and are critical differentiators between a “growth” industry versus a “mature” industry.

And that’s a powerful story; a growth industry with engaged people who work together to develop technologies and then transfer that knowledge within the industry. The industry has a longstanding wealth of creative, talented and dedicated staff who have developed remarkable technology and then shared it so the industry would thrive. More important is communicating that message to college and high school students who are thinking about what type of job or career they might want, and what type of company or industry may be interesting and rewarding. Only by reaching out to the next generation early on will we ensure that the changing of the guard continues into the future.

Corporate investments in the electronics technology industries, boosted by government commitment, and recent strains on the global supply chain causing businesses to rethink where they source electronic materials and components, is increasing momentum for regional growth. Thankfully the next generation is stepping forward to enable our technologies to further develop.

Besides reminding employees and discussing with technology innovators who are developing what we produce, proactive efforts will need to be made by all to attract and develop the next generation of shop floor technicians, at every skill and experience level. The employees who plate, drill, route, inspect and operate screen printers and pick-and-place lines, all necessary skills to fabricate and assemble circuit boards, are essential for the future of our industry. Let the changing of the guard continue at all levels so every company, as well as the industry at large, prospers long into the future.

People, inevitably, are the great differentiators between success or failure. Attracting good workers may be one of the most important, yet most difficult, initiatives for business leaders. Challenges of the moment and difficulties in the past too often dampen how opportunities may be viewed and communicated during the recruitment process. Focusing instead on the great people you have worked with, both at the company level as well as industry wide, combined with knowing we are all a part of a vital industry, will make it easier to attract the best people when the changing of the guard takes place. Article ending bug

Peter Bigelow is president and CEO of IMI, Inc. (; His column appears monthly.