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The revamped online course is supplemented with interactive webinars.

As many of you know, I have taught part of IPC’s EMS Program Management Certification Program since 2003. Following a telephone survey of IPC member company executives and past participants in 2017, IPC decided it was time to entirely revamp the program. I was part of that effort. The new program is called Certified Electronics Program Manager Training & Certification (CEPM). A beta course was held this fall. I thought it might be interesting to devote a column to explaining the changes in course structure and content, plus share some comments from participants. I think certification programs such as this help students better align their on-the-job knowledge with a strong foundation of core concepts. (Disclosure: I still teach part of this course.) The course changes have updated the content to match current industry trends and substantially reduced course costs.

Entirely online. Cost and time away from the office were challenges most often cited as a negative in the telephone survey. In the old format, students would travel to centralized locations for either three separate one-day or two-day classes or a week-long program. Instructors generally traveled as well. The logistics expenses were significant. The new program is designed to emulate university online courses with a variety of learning modalities. It is delivered using the IPC EDGE training platform and an industry-standard webinar platform. Travel cost is completely eliminated, helping to substantially lower course pricing. A two-hour interactive webinar is held twice a week for six weeks. Participants can attend the live version and interact with the instructor and other students or watch a recorded version at a time more convenient to their schedule. Students are assigned to teams at the beginning of the course and analyze a case study each week, collaborating on a joint response and then commenting on the responses of other teams. Students are also responsible for individual assignments that include interactive branched learning role-play exercises, short quizzes and review of presentations related to common program management tools, including dashboards and Gantt charts. Students schedule the certification exam at an IPC test center at their convenience. The exam is still 100 multiple-choice questions.

Content is similar to the previous course and covers core program management activities, a sales overview, account management and expectation setting, cost accounting basics, contracts, materials management, a manufacturing overview and leadership skills. The branched learning role-playing exercises are designed to help students better understand the outcome of specific conversational choices with customers when addressing common program challenges. Several of the students in the beta program agreed to share their perspectives on the following.

Q: What did you like most about the program?

Jim Zelina, program manager, Libra Industries: I found the real-world examples provided in the course helped clarify the message for each lesson.

Paul Garcia, general manager, Clear Blue Engineering: Learning from the point-of-view of different people facing the same challenges I face on a daily basis. The range of topics covered in the course was diverse and broad, but the individual lessons and case studies were highly specific to a certain situation. Learning different ways to approach a specific problem made me feel like I have more options in my toolbox to deal with these issues when they come up.

Ela Domian, production manager, Andrew Technologies: The experiences shared with the class on past situations and issues by both the instructors and other students during the webinars. Anyone can teach a book, but real life and work situations are the best examples and best lesson.

Manuel Fornes, program manager, Milwaukee Electronics: Live weekly sessions were one of the course portions I enjoyed the most. Although I was not available to take live sessions all the time, I followed up afterward and liked the team member interaction with an experienced facilitator. I have been enrolled in other online courses where material is presented on a weekly basis but typically it is a one-way communication format.

Q: Did you apply anything you learned at work?

Zelina: I changed the method for presenting the excess inventory to the customer. I added an estimate of excess value to the quote, as opposed to a statement outlining the customer’s responsibility.

Garcia: I was already applying lessons to my job by the end of week 1. The course has shifted my mindset significantly and I feel like I'm utilizing the lessons learned in every interaction I have, both with customers and my team.

Domian: The importance of good customer communication was one of the key things I learned. I learned a lot about how to deal with customers and how to communicate with them so everyone is on the same page. It made me realize how important it is to keep in touch.

Fornes: The sections on setting expectations with customers and company terms and conditions were beneficial. I’ve learned it is important to put issues on the table as early as possible.

Two additional course sessions have been scheduled for the first half 2019. For more information on the course, visit the IPC website at: ipc.org/ContentPage.aspx?pageid=CEPM.

Susan Mucha is president of Powell-Mucha Consulting Inc. (powell-muchaconsulting.com), a consulting firm providing strategic planning, training and market positioning support to EMS companies and author of Find It. Book It. Grow It. A Robust Process for Account Acquisition in Electronics Manufacturing Services; smucha@powell-muchaconsulting.com.

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