If you happen to have a career in a tech related industry, you might be more conservative than most when looking at the contemporary trends and long-term employment projections of your profession. It's no secret that at times, the tech industry acts as a perfect representation of the term feast or famine – when times are good, the field is bustling and opportunities abound, and when times are bad, well, you get the idea.
An industry that is prone to such severe volatility also means that young professionals looking to enter the workforce may determine that a particular profession is simply too volatile for their comfort level and as such may opt for something just a little more stable, in spite of how lucrative said volatile profession might be.
What is a PCB Designer?
At the risk of oversimplifying a profession that is arguably responsible for each and every one of the many devices we rely so much upon, a Printed Circuit Board (PCB) designer is tasked with, among other things, laying out the diagram (schematic) that depicts the functionality of a circuit. The circuit, for those who don't know, is ultimately one of the many components that determine whether your top of the line device works as advertised or conversely, serves no more purpose than a costly paperweight.
Clearly, with so many aspects of our lives relying on properly functioning technology, you would think that PCB designers would enjoy a pretty stable profession, but it seems that young professionals simply aren't busting down doors to design these most important of schematics.
In fact, an annual PCB designer survey conducted in 2014 concluded that the average age of those in the profession was 50; and that 54% of all respondents had also reached their bi-centennial. It might not even be a stretch to imagine that for many, the thought of retirement might not be too far off. With stats like those, it's no wonder rumors circulate – rumors hinting that perhaps, like many of those surveyed, the profession might be getting a little long in the tooth.
Why the Apparent Lack of Interest? It Starts at School
While it may ultimately be difficult to determine why such a necessary field is drying up right before our eyes, it's certainly not difficult to make some educated guesses.
One might say two of the primary reasons why the field of printed circuit board design seems to be diminishing is due to how mathematics and other STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects are perceived by students. Many students find these subjects intimidating or difficult to grasp; this is certainly an ironic twist considering that things like cellphones and laptops operate because of principles learned by studying STEM subjects. To aid students make connect the cognitive dots, many parents enroll their children in after school math programs and/or science support programs.
Sadly, it seems that most students are content in using technological devices without understanding how or why they work.
To be fair, adults share this ignorance. But even if a young student was interested in learning how to design a circuit board, they may find it difficult finding a post secondary institution that offers a PCB design program. Perhaps
If you were to speak to someone currently in the field, they may claim to have learned the ins and outs of PCBs on the job or perhaps they managed to make a transition from a role in a related field like mechanical or electrical engineering/technology. Couple that with mentor training and the application of fundamental knowledge learned in school and the result is a longstanding career in PCB design.
The fact of the matter is, whatever hurdles or barriers to entry someone interested in PCB design may encounter it is worth the effort to persevere.
Companies Will Always Have Need For STEM Skills
As technology progresses, the demand for circuit boards that are smaller, faster, and stronger grows right along with it. Additionally, there will always be a need for those capable of designing boards that are able to eliminate electromagnetic interference and ensuring electromagnetic compliance in products.
The fact is, the current generation of PCB designers will slowly begin to make way for the new generation – and while that alone might cause a gap that needs filling, the growth of the industry will certainly serve to compound the need for new blood in the industry.
There is some good news however; the survey I alluded to earlier did show a year over year increase in new PCB designers – increasing from 7.6% in 2013 to 12.4% in 2014. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues. One thing is for certain – if the field of PCB design is of interest to you, now is the time to act; there is still a wealth of knowledge in the industry that is just waiting to be passed down to the next generation of designers.