Skills shortages in the electronics industry is a growing  problem, here Michelle Winny, Editor of Electronics visits distributor Aerco to uncover the complexities of a continually evolving industry where knowledge and  experience are key but increasingly hard to find

Doing things manually may seem somewhat archaic but there is still very much a place in the electronics industry for traditionalism. As an industry that still holds sacred business relationships, it remains ever important to know your market and be actively responsive to customer needs.

Given the high-tec nature of the electronics industry you would expect businesses to be moving towards a more automated practice, as stock is widely sourced and ordered directly from the Internet with less need for human interaction. But there is no doubt that this industry is one enriched by both the wealth of knowledge and depth of experience that  culminates within it.

However by opting for an automated process where stock systems are centralised by computers does reduce the need for knowledgeable, industry- experienced staff. Though this in effect detracts from the customer relationship element if customers are ordering their stock online and not encouraged to foster direct relationships with the company. In which case how can a  distributor get to know the key needs of their customers and gain the competitive edge in offering a value added service?

There are many companies in the industry that are not yet placed to revise business practices and that have remained successful for many years without moving to more modernised methods. In fact it is the fine-tuned, well carved business relationships forged over many years that are the glue that holds the industry together. After all if it isn’t broke….

By taking a traditional approach to business combined with an intimate working knowledge of key industry sectors and knowing the exact needs of  customers and being able to cater to them like clockwork, is clearly key to the success of long-standing companies such as Aerco; a stockist and  distributor of electrical components.

The company specialises in supplying manufacturers and service companies within the aerospace, defence, medical, industrial, rail and transportation  markets throughout the world.

As these industrial sectors are fraught with regulations,  complicated by continually changing legislations, the need for a distributor that knows the market and that can offer products in accordance with these requirements is something of a goldmine.

But the threat of both skills obsolescence and skills shortages looms with ever-growing concern for companies that require knowledgeable staff in industries such as these. After all it is not prudent to deploy staff that are not familiar with the products they are selling and the market they are selling into.

In fact Aerco was recently recruiting for sales staff that are qualified and experienced in these sectors to undertake the management of a major book of clients. But due to a combination of contributing factors the company found that the level of qualifying applicants fell short and so the search ensued.

Rob Laughton, Aerco Managing Director said: “At Aerco we encourage staff development by investing heavily in product and commercial training plus an overall management mentoring programme. We also pay a lot of attention to measuring and discussing individual’s contributions to the overall business objectives.’

However the problem of skills  shortages can only serve to be exacerbated by the shifting focus of distributors becoming more involved in the design-in of products on behalf of the manufacturers. This is also the case even where production takes place somewhere else in the world, causing many suppliers to evaluate their distribution policy.

This is resulting in many key shifts taking place in the line cards of many distributors as each try to increase their market penetration into newer technology areas. This is putting immense pressure on staff knowledgeability to keep a pace with evolving technologies and the market place.

According to The Technology Strategy Board: “Manufacturing contributes over £6.7 trillion to the global economy and the UK is a major competitor” but in order for the UK to maintain its competitive manufacturing edge we need to have the staff to  contribute to this worldwide figure.

The threat of outsourcing still continues, taking advantage of cheap labour costs and capitalising on the quality and quantity of available qualified staff overseas. The inherent  problem with this is the depleting UK industry in all aspects that is still integral to the UK economy.

Although the UK is renowned for being a centre of design excellence on a global scale, the concern of engineers gaining qualification in the UK but taking their skills to work  outside of the UK is a perpetuating concern.

So the question is should it fall upon the shoulders of companies within the UK electronics sector to fill this gap by offering enticing training schemes and apprenticeships? This would be attractive for both undergraduate and graduate students to remain in the UK and follow an accessible career path with a stronger career prospect but it takes considerable time and cost to invest in developing qualified staff. So it needs to be also broached much further up the line with younger generations such as at schools and colleagues.

It then also then falls on the government to intercept to reinforce the adoption of science and engineering as an attractive career prospect for young people; though both time and money are currently being invested into promoting this sector but still much more needs to be done.

It is important that action is taken sooner rather than later to fill the gap in skills shortages that currently threaten the UK electronics industry. So this comes down to both education and local industry to recognise this inherent problem and work together to secure the next generation of the electronics sector for  the future of the UK’s much needed and consistently depleting industry.