Training the Future Manufacturing Labor Force

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To better understand what’s needed for upskilling your labor force in today’s job climate, we reached out to Sunstone Circuits, a PCB fabricator in the Pacific Northwest. We posed our set of questions to individuals in three departments to hear their perspectives depending on what area they work in. The following are the questions and answers from Michael Connella, operations manager; Matt Stevenson, vice president of sales and marketing; and Debra Coburn, human resources manager. 

Q: There has been a lot of talk about the need for fabricators to “upskill” their employees to be ready for the technologies of tomorrow. What skill sets do you see lacking in the fab community? 

Michael Connella: We are seeing a larger part of the workforce with experience and “tribal knowledge” of circuit board manufacturing either retiring or moving on to other career paths. I have seen this throughout our industry. Without that in-house knowledge, there are fewer opportunities to glean best practice process control to teach a new generation of line operators and engineers.  

Matt Stevenson: Most of the skills needed to be successful in manufacturing can be taught on the job.  Having the ability to understand logic, ordered process steps, reading and understanding documentation, cause and effect, and basic math concepts are some of the inherent skills that are needed in manufacturing—and less common in 2022 than 10 years ago.

Q: What are the best strategies for training employees to fill these gaps? In-house in-person training, Zoom classes, conferences, classes, online videos, or a mix of these? 

Connella: We have focused on cross-training individuals in several departments and it has helped immensely. Having detailed processes documented, while simultaneously getting quality one-on-one process training has proved to be valuable.   


We recently promoted an employee into an engineering tech position. This individual has been part of our team for over 10 years and has experience in several areas. He has been doing research using online literature as well as online videos. With a variety of options through multi-faceted resources, the opportunities to improve on skills and knowledge base has grown and all should be utilized.  

Stevenson: Most positions on the manufacturing floor do require in-person, onsite (on the job) training. It is the nature of the beast. For roles that can be done remotely, a combination of in-person and video (Zoom) training can be very effective in training primarily as a substitute for in-person.   

Debra Coburn: In-house, in-person training is the best, but has been challenging during the pandemic. Our plan is for in-person trainings, which tend to be far more effective, but we may need to resort to online options if we run into further pandemic roadblocks.  

To read this entire conversation, which appeared in the April 2022 issue of PCB007 Magazine, click here.


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