The Guest Blog

Guest blog post by John Mitchell, President and CEO of IPC.

Manufacturing gets a bad rap.

Today’s advanced manufacturing companies require engaged, intelligent and highly-trained workers. Those working at these cutting-edge facilities would scarcely recognize the old assembly lines from the 1950’s.

And yet, manufacturers today cannot find enough trained workers to fill their open positions, with estimates that 2 million manufacturing jobs will remain vacant over the next decade.

As President and CEO of IPC, an association that represents the global electronics manufacturing industry, I have seen first-hand the struggles our member companies are having in recruiting and retaining talent as they navigate the complex manufacturing of things like aerospace materials, biomedical technology and flexible microchips, not to mention operating and maintaining increasingly complex machines and systems used to produce their goods.

A survey of our member companies in 2015 found that 72 percent of electronics manufacturers believed there was a labor shortage in the industry, and two-thirds had difficulty recruiting production workers and engineers over the past two years. A more recent survey of our European members this year showed similar trends.

According to the European Commission’s estimates, 40% of European employers report that they cannot find people with the right skills to grow and innovate. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics professionals – the so-called STEM professionals — are among the top five skill shortage occupations in the EU, along with ICT professionals, medical doctors, nurses and midwives, and teachers, according to the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP). This skills shortage is a major concern for our industry in Europe and globally.

Closing this STEM skills gap requires a new approach to education with an emphasis on three components: early education; STEM education; and apprenticeships.

STEM topics and career opportunities fail to attract enough young people. They suffer from an image deficit which is deeply rooted in our cultures. We need early childhood education to better inspire youth, getting them interested in and excited about STEM topics in elementary and lower secondary education.

Going further, educators, business leaders and parents should embrace and destigmatize apprentice and vocational training programs in fields such as advanced manufacturing, robotics, and computer programming. Too often, vocational training is seen as the “second-best” option when students are not well suited for university. Even in countries where the vocational training infrastructure is of top-quality, this stigma remains.

We command the EU Alliance on Apprenticeships as we believe that quality apprenticeship scheme can make manufacturing careers more attractive to young people while enabling the industry to train their workforces to their specific needs.

Technology is changing faster than university curricula. The skills necessary for tomorrow’s most in-demand jobs are often not taught in college.

According to CEDEFOP, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, 43% of EU employees experienced a recent change in the technologies they use at work. For them to adapt to a fast-changing work environment, our education systems must lay the intellectual foundation today for them to grow and pivot – to acquire new skills as technology continues to shift. Flexibility and fluidity of skills will be the new currency of the future worker.

Businesses have their role to play, be it by proposing attractive apprenticeship opportunities or by continuously upgrading their workforces with short-training programmes. But only if we see this as a societal issue which concerns us all – decision-makers, education institutes, trade unions, students organizations, industry, and parents — only then we will be able to ensure we are producing the type of skilled workforce that will maintain the competitiveness of the EU manufacturing industry.


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