Worker Shortages Plague EU Electronics OEMs
The electronics industry has enjoyed strong growth in 2017 and 2018, but the ability to find and retain
skilled workers has remained a critical challenge. It’s been a recurrent theme in the Institute for
Supply Management’s monthly factory index, and now the European Union (EU) fears its workforce
will be stressed as electronics employment grows.
A shortage of skilled workers is the industry’s top business concern, according to IPC President and
CEO John Mitchell. More than two-thirds of IPC companies indicate that a lack of skilled workers is
constraining their ability to grow.
“With unemployment in many countries near record lows, market conditions are surely a factor,” he
said. “At the same time, electronics manufacturers are requiring ever-greater skillsets as the industry
moves to advanced manufacturing.”
Employment in 28 EU member states (EU28) is expected to grow about 0.2 percent annually over the
next five years, according to an Oxford Economics report commissioned by IPC. Although that doesn’t
look like a drastic increase, workers’ skillsets aren’t keeping pace.
“From a policy perspective,” Mitchell added, “we believe Europe needs to take a strong cross-sectoral
policy approach to expanding the skilled workforce and strengthening the electronics value chain.”
The European electronics industry currently employs approximately 2.4 million workers in the EU28,
or about 8 percent of overall manufacturing employment. The IPC has pledged to create at least
500,000 workforce training opportunities across the EU over the next five years.
U.S. companies face a similar skilled-worker shortage. However, the EU is facing extra stressors in the
form of tariffs and Brexit, which are adding to economic ambiguity.
“Uncertainty for businesses tends to result in reluctance to invest in new staff members,” according
to Nicolas Robin, senior director at IPC’s Europe office in Brussels. “It is only rational that companies
will not want to make a substantial investment in new employees, unless they have some degree of
certainty on their business volume.”
Workers have a lot of mobility within the EU, Robin said, but that doesn’t necessarily address overall
electronics employment issues. “One of the greatest achievements of the EU is the free movement of
people, which includes movement for employment purposes. Any EU citizen can freely move and
work in any EU member state, so hiring the right person is usually much easier than finding the right
Brexit is unlikely to change the free movement of people between the UK and EU, he said, “however,
it seems likely at this point that the right of Britons to work in the EU will be curtailed, as will be the
right of EU citizens to move and work in Britain.”
One of the main challenges regarding skills, Robin said, is an understanding of how qualifications
obtained in one member state translate into the qualifications system of another.
“The EU has worked to create a system allowing the mapping of different qualifications onto a
common reference system to resolve this problem,” he said. “This means, for example, that someone
receiving a certain qualification in Poland can see at what level of qualification it corresponds to in
Germany, so both employees and employers can determine suitability of a candidate.”
Member states are free to set their own curricula and configure their education and training systems
as they see fit,” Robin explained. “The EU usually plays the role of funding provider for training
initiatives through its various funding schemes and that of data aggregator, drawing the panEuropean
In some countries the government takes a stronger role, he said, collaborating closely with industry
and worker groups. In others, initiatives can be more business-driven.