Electronics service provider Out of the shadows!

Felix Timmermann, Executive Vice President, von Asteelflash
»Den Markt sehen wir grundsätzlich sehr positiv – allerdings mit einzelnen Wolken: Material, Mensch, Maschine. Was uns bei den Supply-Chain abgesehen von der Verfügbarkeit Probleme bereitet, ist die Zuverlässigkeit. Bei den aktiven Bauteilen ist die Zuverlässigkeit  grundsätzlich besser, bei den Passiven ist es tatsächlich eine Wundertüte, die jeden Tag neu geöffnet wird und anhand derer dann entschieden wird, was man produzieren kann. Nicht zu unterschätzen ist aber auch die Herausforderung beim Faktor „Mensch“. Das heißt einerseits, die richtigen Mitarbeiter zu finden und andererseits die Kollegen auf den Weg der - digitalen - Transformation mitzunehmen. Die Schwierigkeit bei den Maschinen liegt im Automatisierungs- und Vernetzungskomplex.«
Felix Timmermann, Asteelflash: »We no longer have semi-skilled workers for very simple tasks. That of course is an additional barrier, because we can‘t hire just anyone, we need people who have the right level of quality.«

Electronic service providers - Electronic Manufacturing Services (EMS) are the backbone of the electronics industry - not “only” in production, but also in development.

However, the industry is still struggling with recruiting because it cannot score with a high-gloss image. Yet it has nothing to hide.
Many OEMs rely on the services of an EMS provider either continuously or on a project basis: In many supply chains an EMS is now involved as Tier 2, 3, X – which is actually a accolade for the industry. But in the perception of many potential employees, the EMS business is still comparatively “unsexy”. In most cases there is no well-known brand behind an EMS company. What the EMS produces for large and well-known OEMs happens in secret and usually under a Non-Disclosure Agreement. After all, working in the background is the very basis of the service business; no high-gloss image campaigns, no attractive products for public relations that attract employees. The EMS providers often lose-out when it comes to recruitment, all the way from skilled workers to development engineers, compared to well-known OEMs.

And that despite the fact that the days in which the EMS was simply the OEM’s extended workbench for SMT or THT assembly are long gone. Anyone who wants to be successful in this industry today must inevitably move to the “Leading Edge” of electronics manufacturing and be able to offer development capabilities or at least engineering competence in design-for-manufacturing. The demands made on the EMS provider are also “intrinsically much higher than in other businesses,” says Ralf Hasler, Managing Director of Lacon, using an example to illustrate this: “When an engineer works for an automotive OEM, he has a manageable range of articles. When he comes to us, he is confronted with an immense variety.” So nobody can sit back quietly in his comfort zone with EMS, and even in terms of salary, EMS often performs worse than OEMs.

Some new entrants to the world of work view the EMS “as a hard school in which to gain experience before being hired by an OEM”, sums up Stephan Baur, Partner at BMK. But if you don‘t want to work in a monothematic way, you will find an exciting array of opportunities on the EMS world as a skilled worker or engineer through many vertical markets: Automotive, railway technology, industrial electronics, aviation, telecommunications and high-quality household appliances are among the industry‘s fields of activity.

Staff shortages from workers to engineers

The vacancies in the EMS sector exist not only on the engineering level, but through all areas, and semi-skilled workers are also in short supply depending on the region. In many conurbations there is full employment and the competition with big OEM names is even tougher. Structurally weak rural regions are not attractive for employees, as Jörg Neukirch, Managing Director of Neways-Vertriebs GmbH, also knows. “We have a real problem at our location in Riesa, where the search for personnel ties up a lot of capacity”. Riesa is about 60 km away from Dresden.

Some of the EMS companies with whom Markt&Technik talked believe however, that the lack of skilled craftsmen in Germany is not specific to EMS or the broader electronics industry, but is a politically homemade problem. When the decision to increase student ratios was made, it was conveniently forgotten that one actually has something very valuable in local training systems. The image of training occupations in general has suffered as a result. In Germany, a lot of parents in large cities in particular are encouraging their children to persue higher school careers with subsequent further education. Dr. Peter Schmitt, Business Director of CCS, explains that this is not the case in Switzerland: “In Switzerland Crafts still enjoy a good reputation.”