The Right Approach: Finding the Next Generation of 'Board Rats'

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Owners of printed circuit board shops across the country are united in their top concern for their businesses: finding new talent. While this problem crosses all industries, what is unique is the complexity and learning curve of our business.

What is a board rat?

We old-timers affectionately refer to ourselves as board rats; we are lifers in the industry who truly share a passion for building printed circuit boards. For most of us, this was one of our first full-time jobs, starting out sweeping floors, shearing laminate (yes, manually), sanding panels, and doing all the grunt work that “back in the day” meant we were paying our dues. We grew up with the business, could never imagine doing anything else, and advanced through the ranks by good old-fashioned hard work. Many went on to become industry leaders, which includes developing new technology, running plants or owning a shop.

Brain Drain

There is no question that America has an aging workforce, and once again this is neither unique to printed circuits, nor a new phenomenon. However, in my humble opinion, the talent issue facing PCB leaders today is the most challenging I have seen over my 40-year career. The aforementioned passion is the most troubling part of developing the next generation of PCB craftsmen. In fact, I had this very discussion recently with Mark, an old friend who owns a board shop.

As we spent some time catching up and talking about business, I asked Mark what kept him up at night.  He said, “Steve, that’s easy—people. I’ve got several key employees who have been with me since I started the company who are planning to retire in the next couple of years. I just don’t know how I am going to replace that talent.” Mark went on to lament that the younger people he brings in just do not “love boards like we do.” He told me about a recent hire who showed exceptional promise, was absorbing everything like a sponge, and who everyone had very high hopes for. After months of training, she just did not show up for work one day, and Mark never heard from her again. Unfortunately, this is not a one-off.

To read the full version of this column which appeared in the May 2017 issue of The PCB Magazine, click here.


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