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Focus on Business

Susan Mucha

Why you should consider a certification program.

When I look back on my career and consider the key ingredient to my success, I’d say whenever opportunity knocked, I had the right skill set to walk through the door. I was fortunate that my first electronics manufacturing services (EMS) employer had both a tuition refund program that paid for my master’s degree in management and an internal management training program. That started me on a path of continuous learning that included multiple certification programs and other training programs. And, as advancement opportunities came up, I had the right qualifications and a results-focused track record.

Company-sponsored educational resources are more limited today. That said, technology has made it possible and convenient to engage in focused continuous learning opportunities. IPC’s Certified Electronics Program Manager (CEPM) training and certification program is a good example. What once required multiple trips to training locations and a solid week of classroom time can now be done via computer either in live sessions or through reviews of class recordings. The program was redesigned to an online format in 2017 and now is a six-week program with two two-hour classes per week, providing overviews of program management, sales, cost accounting, materials management, contracts, production planning, quality and leadership. Students are assigned to teams that complete a case study each week related to the concepts presented. A variety of online exercises reinforce key concepts. The goal is to ensure participants are provided a common framework of knowledge and the opportunity to interact with peers to discuss best practices. Information on the program and upcoming dates is available here: https://training.ipc.org/product/certified-electronics-program-manager-cepm-program.

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Sue Mucha

The big lesson from this unpredictable year is infrastructure planning pays.

“Hindsight is 20:20” refers to a vision measurement, not this crazy year. But from a planning standpoint, the year “2020” has rewarded electronics manufacturing services (EMS) companies that built resilience into their operational plans. As I write this, the Covid-19 pandemic continues to spur an era of new normal. The introduction of vaccines will hopefully drive a return to something close to the old normal. While this challenge is ongoing, however, it is important to look at some of the operational investments that have proved most beneficial.

Here are five areas that stand out to me:

IT. Companies that were already supporting employees working remotely as a result of business travel, remote home offices or a need to work in multiple time zones more comfortably had an edge in converting a larger portion of the workforce to work-at-home scenarios. VPNs, internal systems capable of supporting secure and fast access to remote users, videoconferencing tools, seamless transfer of work phones to mobile phones, and existing policies/training on maintaining security in home office environments are all key elements enabling employees to effectively work at home. Companies with these in place simply had to scale up to accommodate a larger user base. Systems strategy has also been integral in managing the supply chain and forecasting disruption driven by Covid-19. Companies with systems that can quickly assess inventory levels, material availability and production status globally were better off than those with facility-specific systems or systems that required much manual interpretation to gather that information.

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Susan Mucha

With travel frozen, rethink and repurpose those marketing dollars.

By making face-to-face sales calls impossible, Covid-19 is challenging electronics manufacturing services (EMS) salespeople to work in new ways. Sadly, that challenge isn’t likely to go away soon. On the bright side, it opens the door to a more productive, less costly sales and OEM relationship, provided salespeople modify their approach.

In the normal flow of EMS selling, there is typically a lead follow-up phase that results in a face-to-face sales call. There may be an additional meeting to present a quotation, depending on the distance between the salesperson and decision-maker. There is also usually a plant tour. When all these activities are local, costs drop to the amount of time the individuals spend on the activity. However, the cost of a sales call that involves business travel may be $1,000 to $2,000, depending on mode of travel and how many sales calls are clustered into that trip.

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Sue Mucha

Ramp the advertising programs and support them with content tied to sales efforts.

In my last column, I discussed the communications strategies that were most important as Covid-19 began to change our working lives. This month, I look at communications strategies that will be most important as we resume the new normal working world.

As I write this (Apr. 16), the strategy for reopening businesses is just being formulated. From everything I’ve seen reported, it appears the strategy will be a rolling relaxation of restrictions, which means geographic advantages for companies in places that either had minimal infection rates or have successfully flattened their curves. Rolling increases of restrictions are also likely if a region starts to see new spikes in infections.

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Sue Mucha

Or how not to make a (potential) problem bigger than it is.

As I write this (Feb. 28), the spread of Covid-19 within the US is still very limited in terms of numbers of confirmed cases. That said, it is already creating a large body of communications lessons to be learned that will remain relevant a month from now.

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Sue Mucha

Why the “rise of the robots” might be a good thing for workers.

Once a year, I like to take a column to look at the trends I’m seeing for the coming year. I think 2020 is going to be fairly good for the electronics manufacturing services (EMS) industry.

The trade war finally appears to be cooling down. Both China and the US have been hurt by it, and I think both sides have reached the point where they realize that not reaching an agreement will cost both of them lucrative manufacturing sectors, since China is seeing production migrate to Southeast Asia, and the US is seeing production move to Mexico. As I write this, the phase 1 deal has yet to be signed. If it does get signed in early-2020 and tariffs begin to lift, that could remove the trade-war-driven drag on the US manufacturing economy. The signing of USMCA will also have some positive effects and hopefully improve the competitiveness of US manufacturing within North America.

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