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12 The PCB Magazine • May 2017 by Steve Williams THE RIGHT APPROACH CONSULTING FEATURE COLUMN: THE RIGHT APPROACH Introduction 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 busi- ness. What is a board rat? We old-timers affectionately refer to our- selves as board rats; we are lifers in the indus- try who truly share a passion for building print- ed circuit boards. For most of us, this was one of our first full-time jobs, starting out sweeping floors, shearing laminate (yes, manually), sand- ing 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 nev- er imagine doing anything else, and advanced through the ranks by good old-fashioned hard work. Many went on to become industry lead- ers, which includes developing new technology, running plants or owning a shop. Brain Drain There is no question that America has an aging work- force, and once again this is neither unique to print- ed circuits, nor a new phenomenon. Howev- er, in my humble opin- ion, the talent issue fac- ing PCB leaders today is the most challenging I have seen over my 40-year career. The aforemen- tioned passion is the most troubling part of de- veloping the next generation of PCB craftsmen. In fact, I had this ver y discussion recently with Mark, an old friend who owns a board shop. As we spent some time catching up and talk - ing 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 young- er 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 ev- erything 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. Unfortunate- ly, this is not a one-off. Dwindling Talent Pool One of the root causes of this lack of tal- ent is the sheer decimation of the U.S. printed circuit industry. In the mid-1980s, there were more than 1,500 printed circuit board manu- facturers in North America. As of this publica- tion, there are only 253 North American PCB

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