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2018 Federal Report Spotlighted What’s Needed to Keep America Competitive – and Secure

Written by Alan Earls.

There are some good reasons to think about the future of our electronics industry.

In 2018, the federal government issued a report, “Assessing and Strengthening the Manufacturing and Defense Industrial Base and Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States.”  The report was kicked off in large part due to concern about the rapid movement of so much industry, especially in the electronics sector, outside of the United States, and particularly to China.

This concern was a favorite theme of former President Trump. The report explains that modern supply chains…are often long and the ability of the United States to manufacture or obtain goods critical to national security could be hampered by an inability to obtain various essential components, which themselves may not be directly related to national security. Thus, the United States must maintain a manufacturing and defense industrial base and supply chains capable of manufacturing or supplying those items.

The Report points out something painfully obvious: a healthy manufacturing and defense industrial base as well as a “resilient” supply chains are critical to the security and economic strength of the United States.

While those words might have seemed like an overstatement back in 2018, the events of the Covid pandemic proved them to be only too true. With closed workplaces and disruption in trade and transportation, shortages became the norm rather than the exception. Among the critical items difficult to find were high-quality masks, some medical supplies and then the computer chips so vital for modern consumer products and vehicles. Lacking those supplies worsened a healthcare crisis and threatened the ability of the nation to recover economically.

Now, the events in Ukraine have made these issues even more stark. As the authors of the report wrote,” the ability of the United States to maintain readiness, and to surge in response to an emergency, directly relates to the capacity, capabilities, and resiliency of our manufacturing and defense industrial base and supply chains. “

There are some good reasons for optimism.

At long last, the federal government is focused on the problem. For instance, the Biden administration has sought to identify gaps or “fragility” in manufacturing and supply chains that can create strategic or operational risk. One of their special points of focus is ensuring the right kind of technical workforce.

Even private sector companies have seen the value in beginning to “reshore” – the industry term for bringing jobs and production back to the US. But, thanks to years of downward trends in the industry, shifting back to “Made in the USA” is often being held back by that one, hard-to-replace resource: skilled people.

The “Assessing” report notes that many organizations have relied too much on aging ‘Baby Boomers’ who are now preparing to retire or have already left the labor market. For many years, very few people went into these key fields of electronic manufacturing, test, and repair. The “pipeline” is empty, and industry needs to fill it back up.

Vital Signs 2022, another report, just released in February 2022. looking at competitiveness and recovery, just published by National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) also focused on skills. The report explained:

“A 2018 study of the skills gap by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute estimated that 2.4 million open manufacturing positions would go unfilled between 2018 and 2028 due to a lack of available skilled labor. Many defense leaders have issued calls to action to address this sort of STEM-based skills gap, citing growing shortages of engineers and technicians at a time of technological competition. Many leading defense firms have responded to this trend by helping to grow the pipeline of STEM graduates entering defense engineering and manufacturing fields. Another way to view this issue is our Vital Signs Survey. While there is not enough data to score yet, there are some worrying signs, with only 17% of respondents saying that finding STEM workers is “Not difficult.” This points towards the demand for STEM workers also growing, because even after a record number of new graduates have entered the market, companies in the DIB [defense industrial base] continue to report challenges in finding qualified talent.”

What skills?

Despite high levels of automation in electronics manufacturing and test, there are many, many tasks involved in creating, operating, maintaining, and even disposing of electronic equipment. These tasks require a good fundamental understanding of basic electronic theory and, above all, a complete alignment with standard industry practices. This is both a matter of safety and of success. The skills take some time to acquire but they are well within the abilities of many who have perhaps not previously considered this career direction.

Recently, the Department of Defense’s Office of Industrial Policy (IndPol), through its Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment (IBAS) Program, issued a contract for a pilot program to help train more electronic technicians. But many of those programs take a slow-pace approach and may not produce graduates for years.

That’s where the STRAC “difference” really shines. We have been set up to serve busy adults who don’t have time for red tape and the runaround.  Your time is valuable and if you invest it, you want to get to a payback quickly.   The STRAC accelerated approach can get individuals back out in the work force in 4-5 months, at least a year ahead of many traditional programs. And what you learn is usable and relevant, not fluff to fill out a credit requirement. And it’s not “lite” – it’s 640 and 800 contact hours in the classroom and lab, which includes more than 40 hands-on exercises. By comparison a full 30 credit-hour certificate program at a traditional school typically only delivers 450 contact hours.

STRAC didn’t start with the problems of today in mind. But we think we have exactly the right fit for a rapidly evolving industry in America, one that’s rebuilding and growing as it hasn’t in at least a generation. And we believe in a challenging job market, our credentials will open doors.