Slow Train a Comin’

Where are the next generation of good engineers going to come from?

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been asked this …. well, you can do the math.

A good friend asked me this just today. He has noticed many of the 25 to 45 year old engineers have left the SMT industry, and questioned where the new ones would come from.

My response: The same place they always have — they will be poached from other companies, or trained in house.

Twenty years ago, we had the same problems we face today regarding the availability of qualified process engineers. But we looked at it differently. Then, with the industry in its relative infancy and growing 15 to 30% per year, we accepted that hiring novice engineers and training them was simply part of the cost of doing business. Somewhere along the line (get it?) the mindset changed. We started to expect that experienced yet affordable engineers would always be available, and when they weren’t — especially after the tech meltdown, when many left for greener, less cyclical pastures — we as an industry went into a collective mode of “woe is us.”

What we forgot, however, is that the electronics industry has traditionally been self-reliant. We don’t need universities to send us mechanical and industrial engineers ready minted and prepared for action. We need to get back to recognizing that every industry has its learning curve, and we need look no further than ourselves for the solution.

It’s time to stop worrying about the next-generation of engineers and get back in the business of recruiting, mentoring and shaping the orbs as they exit college, engineering degrees in hand, into insightful and careful process engineers.

Companies that do well in this regard will have a competitive advantage over those that don’t.

And if we are lucky, we may just learn something along the way.



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About Mike

Mike Buetow is president of the Printed Circuit Engineering Association ( He previously was editor-in-chief of Circuits Assembly magazine, the leading publication for electronics manufacturing, and PCD&F, the leading publication for printed circuit design and fabrication. He spent 21 years as vice president and editorial director of UP Media Group, for which he oversaw all editorial and production aspects. He has more than 30 years' experience in the electronics industry, including six years at IPC, an electronics trade association, at which he was a technical projects manager and communications director. He has also held editorial positions at SMT Magazine, community newspapers and in book publishing. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois. Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikebuetow