Andy Shaughnessy speaks with Jamie Noland, master IPC trainer and marketing manager for Blackfox Institute, about current and upcoming training opportunities and what you can expect from them at the show. Blackfox has expanded its offerings to reach a wider audience, including some very basic classes for beginners.
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Andy Shaughnessy: I’m here with Jamie Noland from Blackfox. What’s your title again, Jamie?
Jamie Noland: I’ve got a couple titles, master IPC trainer and marketing manager for Blackfox.
Shaughnessy: Okay. And you all are based in Colorado, and I know y’all are getting ready to go to IPC APEX EXPO. Why don’t you give us a rundown of what you all have planned for the show?
Noland: We’re going to be exhibiting there, and also, I’ll be attending meetings for IPC’s committees. But we’ll be there basically just still showing that we’re teaching both in person and at one of our facilities and online as well. So, we want to get the word out that training is available. You can come to us. We can come to you, or we can get this done remotely online. We’re also going to be talking about our expansion. We’ve been so busy over the past year or so that we’re expanding our Longmont, Colorado facilities. Now, we’re going to have a total of five classrooms. We expanded into a few more offices. And so that’s pretty good news on our front right now.
Shaughnessy: I know it seems like last time I talked to you guys, you were expanding. Talk a little bit maybe about how things have changed since the COVID experience. I mean, are you doing it all in-person or is it kind of a mix or what?
Noland: We’re doing an even mix of in-person and online classes. In fact, it’s probably not even. We’re doing more in-person training than we are doing online training because a lot of the classes that we do teach are not available to be completed remotely. So those classes do require soldering and hands-on activities that cannot be completed remotely. But we do a pretty good mix of both in-person and online.
Shaughnessy: That’s cool. And what are some of the classes that you’re seeing a big draw right now?
Noland: Some of the big draws are the J-STD-001 from IPC. That has always been a large draw. It seems to be getting stronger and stronger. I think it’s the focus of the aerospace and military manufacturers to ensure their employees are certified to the J-STD-001 to meet contractual requirements and to get new contracts to expand their businesses.
Shaughnessy: Right. And I know you’re a certified IPC provider, but you also have your own Blackfox classes. Tell us about some of those.
Noland: So, we have made about 45 different custom electronics manufacturing classes designed to fill in the gaps where the IPC training and certification programs don’t exactly fit. A lot of the really basic courses are designed for new employees. We have basic soldering classes, basic quality inspection, covering things like, “This is a soldering iron.” So, getting really, really basic. And then we also have more of the advanced classes too that go a little bit above and beyond some of the IPC certification programs. Designed for more of your advanced engineers and operators.
Shaughnessy: Right. And with some of these classes, there’s no way to do lead-free soldering. They can’t really demonstrate it virtually, right?
Noland: Not remotely, no. So, a lot of those classes that have a hands-on element, they’re being completed at our facilities and also onsite at our customers’ facilities.
Shaughnessy: Right. So how many locations do you have now for in-person?
Noland: Well, right now, we have our headquarters in Longmont, Colorado with five classrooms and those are our headquarters. So, all the sales, marketing, everything goes through this office. We also have a facility in Phoenix, Arizona. We have three classrooms there, a couple full-time employees staffing that facility, making sure it’s running smoothly. We also have two facilities in Mexico, one in Queretaro and in Guadalajara, with a couple employees that man those facilities. And we also have partnerships in Malaysia and Singapore where we are conducting both online and in-person training with our manufacturing partners in that region.
Shaughnessy: So, you guys are definitely on the move.
Noland: And that’s just our in-person facilities. We also spend a great majority of our time on the road, traveling to our customer facilities using their tools, their equipment, and in their comfortable facilities.
Shaughnessy: And you said before that you all are hiring. What are you looking for? What specialties?
Noland: Well, we’re always looking for outstanding trainers. That’s something that’s really hard to find is a really good trainer. We do employ a lot of them, but we’re always on the lookout for more. So right now, we’re in the process of looking for another trainer or two in our U.S. region. We’re also looking for more help with our sales and shipping and receiving departments as well.
Shaughnessy: I wonder, when you look out, are you seeing that subject matter experts have left the industry and maybe left a hole in some of these companies? And so the companies have to send their existing employers to your classes or what? What do you think?
Noland: I think it’s a matter of a very large generation that’s starting to retire in electronics manufacturing and a lot of that tribal knowledge that goes with it. And so manufacturers are scrambling to bring in the newer generations, the younger generations, into manufacturing and struggling to keep up with training them, making sure that they are doing what they’re supposed to be doing out on the floor, meeting contractual requirements, things like that. So that’s where a lot of our certification programs come into play in the training programs to meet those needs and to pass that knowledge on to the younger generations.
Shaughnessy: And what do you teach in your classes?
Noland: Well, I’m a Master IPC Trainer in all six of the IPC training and certification programs. So that’s everything from bareboard fabrication to cable harness assembly to soldering and circuit board assembly, and rework and repair as well.
Shaughnessy: Okay. Is there anything else you want to mention? Anything that we haven’t covered?
Noland: Yeah. We send out a survey to a lot of our customers, and I kind of want to talk a little bit on that. And we had a lot of outstanding feedback from our customers. At Blackfox, we love to listen to our customers, figure out what they need. And a lot of them were really willing to respond. So, we have a fantastic response. We had some questions on there that asked about what the biggest issues are in the industry for them, and supply chain issues, of course, were at the top of the list. But also, difficulty finding and retaining employees is also the top of the list and two things that I think everyone’s dealing with right now during this pandemic. And we’re trying to ways to meet those needs to help out.
And I figured that one of the best ways to keep and retain employees is by training them and getting them the skills they need, getting them excited about what they’re doing, and having them take some pride and ownership in their work. And I think we are evolving to try to meet those needs.
Shaughnessy: Great. I was at a PCB Carolina and it was the first time I’d seen a lot of these people in years and everyone’s hiring. I talked to a recruiter, and she said she has all these clients looking for employees. And she said, “The main thing is to make yourself attractive. Because they’re not going to come to you anymore.” So it’s definitely an interesting time. I guess it’s better than before when it was people were all out of work. Now, it’s like we can’t find enough workers.
Noland: Yeah, it’s the old feast or famine, right? But I think right now, it’s a combination of there being a shortage of workers, but also an increase in, especially with our sector and in military and aerospace manufacturing spending. So, it’s a combination of pain points, but all in all, I think in the long run, it’s going to work out pretty well for manufacturers and the employees.
Shaughnessy: Great. Anything else? I think we covered everything I was thinking.
Noland: Yeah, I think that’s good.
Shaughnessy: Okay. Well, good. Thank you, Jamie.
Noland: Thank you, Andy