We Have to be Marketers for Our Industry

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Each year, I enjoy checking out the Design Forum during IPC APEX EXPO. You never know what to expect, and the event gives you a good feel for what’s on designers’ minds. Every few years, attendees are, ahem, critical of IPC and the Designers Council and their outreach programs, or lack thereof. This was one of those years.

Speaker Stephen V. Chavez, lead electrical designer with UTC Aerospace Systems and a CID+ instructor, discussed efforts to grow the Designers Council, add new chapters, and draw more young people into PCB design careers. This is where the conversation went off the rails. It wasn’t exactly argumentative, but everyone in the room seemed to have a different opinion about what IPC and the Designers Council were doing right and wrong, especially when it comes to attracting talented young people. And as designers, they’re not shy about sharing these opinions. (PCB designers remind me of the old joke about French politics: How do you get five different French political opinions? Ask four Frenchmen.)

One attendee asked why IPC was still virtually unknown on some college campuses, even those with solid electronics curricula. Another asked why IPC didn’t have a rep for each college. I think the sheer numbers of colleges would make that a tough way to go, but it was a good question.  

What is the answer? How can we reach the next generation of PCB designers? What can be done to get smart high school and college students interested in designing, fabricating, or assembling circuit boards?

How can we get guidance counselors to start recommending a career in PCB design or manufacturing? How can we get kids excited about a career in electronics, period? It shouldn’t be this tough, really. Kids have iPhones in fourth grade, and play video games in kindergarten. They’ve been exposed to cool electronics their whole lives. Why don’t more of them want to join our industry? I’d really like to know.

It’s a problem that’s been ongoing for decades. Here we are, working with great people in an industry that provides the backbone for electronic products, and most young people don’t know it exists as a career choice.

IPC has been working for decades to get the PCB curriculum into colleges. But a few designers at the Design Forum shared their opinions that IPC and the Designers Council are just not doing enough to market the DC and attract more people, especially young students, to a PCB design career. That’s IPC’s responsibility, right?

But wait. Isn’t it our responsibility? It’s our industry; shouldn’t we see to it that our industry gets the respect it deserves, and that the next generation can’t resist joining us and working on some of the coolest technology around?

What if everyone who attended IPC APEX EXPO went home and visited the schools in their neighborhood, spreading the word about our industry? What if everyone who attended DesignCon, DAC, IMS and PCB West did the same? I bet the locals who attend CPCA are already doing this.

To read this entire column, which appeared in the March 2017 issue of The PCB Design Magazine, click here.


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