The Thrill of the Journey

Remember to sell the excitement of the industry.

As finding and hiring talent has become so difficult over the past several years, it seems in every conversation I have, especially when younger people are involved, the subject turns to the need for talent in the world of manufacturing. With the baby boomers retiring in record numbers and the millennial generation showing so little knowledge of, or interest in, manufacturing, while appearing to prefer a “gig” type of employment (read: it’s just a temporary job), my mantra of talking about the needs of industry for new talent at times seems like a broken record.

Recently a millennial asked me a simple question: “Why do you like manufacturing so much?” The question caught me off guard, for two reasons. First, I assume that everyone knows why I like manufacturing and our industry so much. Second, it’s exactly what needs to be asked, but is typically missing from discussions when seeking and finding new talent! We discuss the need to hire, but rarely do we discuss the excitement, opportunity and personal satisfaction that can be had in manufacturing. Here’s what makes manufacturing, electronics and our industry such an exciting place to be.

Manufacturing means building a tangible product. I like the satisfaction of being part of a team that is making – building – something, something that can be seen, used, and results in a productive object. In retail, you may meet many people, but you did not create anything. In the service sector, you may solve a problem, but not by creating an elegant device. In manufacturing you get to work with people while solving a problem – by building something that can be seen and held!

Technology, and all that goes into building it, is nothing less than exciting. Technology is always changing. More than almost any other industry, electronics catalyzes the latest capability and enables manufactured items to function faster and better than could have been imagined. During my career I have seen technology transform manufacturing. Long gone are the mainframe computers of the early 1970s. Thanks to technology and electronics, those mainframe computers morphed to mini-computers, then to “personal” computers, then to laptops and tablets, then to smartphones. Consider the evolution! All those devices were manufactured, and none would have been possible without the technologies enabled by electronics.

Printed circuit boards – their fabrication and assembly – represent the perfect marriage of process discipline and on-the-fly creativity. Nowhere in the spectrum of electronics or manufacturing is that more evident. Our industry produces the chassis, the backbone of innovation.

Think about all that goes into fabricating a simple (not!) printed circuit board. To produce one requires several mutually exclusive processes that, together, produce an inclusive technological marvel. Manufacturing commences with vastly differing processes including lithography, CNC machining, plating and etching, laminate (the physics of pressing materials together), and the final verification and validation of all those processes to produce a high-quality and relatively economical platform on which additional components are added and the manufacturing process continues.

Equally impressive is all that goes into the assembly of printed circuit boards. The EMS community takes one circuit board and populates it with hundreds, if not more, small, often fragile components with pinpoint precision. And all these components must fit precisely within minimal real estate, processed with a combination of automated equipment with some possible handwork requiring the skill and dexterity of highly proficient people.

The fact is that, throughout manufacturing, especially in our industry, skilled people make the difference. It’s exciting to me how two companies with the same machinery and equipment can produce vastly different product, while two companies with completely different machinery and equipment can produce the same product. These are some of the things that excite me most about our industry. The creativity necessary to build product. The discipline to follow proven processes to produce product. The ever-changing technological demands and tools available that require continual mental retooling and constant learning. All these make our industry an exciting one to be in.

Most of all, it’s the pride that comes from knowing that you contributed to producing something. Producing a technologically advanced item while utilizing so many varied processes that, together, create imaginative, quality, cost-effective solutions that are in demand by virtually every industry. It’s that sizzle we often forget to talk up when discussing our industry, especially when recruiting and interviewing prospective employees. It is the “excitement” and “what if” and “just imagine” we too often forget to communicate to young people looking for a place to earn money and begin their employment journey.

Everyone in our industry is in need of talent: the next-generation employee. Thanks to a simple question, I have retooled my elevator pitch from one of “need” to one of “exciting opportunity.” Hopefully I am not alone. Article ending bug

PETER BIGELOW is president and CEO of IMI, Inc. (; His column appears monthly.