Are you tapping all the opportunities in your labor market?
For US electronics manufacturing services (EMS) providers, the only thing in shorter supply than long lead-time components is labor. Decades of manufacturing job losses translate to a generation of workers who don't consider manufacturing jobs because they don't know anyone in manufacturing. EMS companies are addressing this in multiple ways including job enlargement for existing workers, greater use of automation and closer ties with community colleges. Flexible work schedules better aligned with college student or single-parent schedule preferences have also been successful tactics. In areas with large retired populations, flexible work schedules may also appeal to retirees who are feeling inflationary pressures to re-enter the workforce and want better compensation than found in retail.
Adapting Covid-era processes to a more rational demand level.
I frequently say that program management is the most challenging job in the electronics manufacturing services (EMS) industry because program managers are expected to keep programs on schedule with little control over the variables that need to align for them to be successful in their jobs. Supply-demand imbalances in both the supply chain and with customers have made that job even harder. And, just like those late night informercials that tease “but wait, there’s more,” the chaos of the past two years is about to get worse.
The new challenge program managers are starting to see this year is a return to historical demand in many customer industries. Material availability is starting to improve in some areas, but not all part manufacturers are relaxing the draconian noncancellable, non-returnable (NCNR) policies put in place during the supply-demand imbalance. That basically means that even if customer demand is coming down, in some cases, orders scheduled for delivery several quarters from now can’t be adjusted with some suppliers because extended NCNR terms put in place when chipmaking capacity was at a premium are still present.
Teams are overworked and on the edge. How to combat the slide.
One of my favorite bosses pointed out that a contract is only as good as the intent of the parties who sign it. Yes, you can haul a party in breach of contract into court or arbitration, but the resolution rarely completely fixes the issue, and in many cases parties breach agreements with no consequences. Nowhere is that more evident than in today’s semiconductor industry. You’ll get parts when they arrive even when there was a commitment for an earlier date; they may cost more than the agreed-upon price; and the order is noncancellable regardless of how many previously agreed-upon terms change. In short, one party has no intent to adhere to the terms of its agreements, and market conditions will likely enable that behavior to continue indefinitely with no consequences.
This type of environment can be as contagious as the most recent Covid variant. Customer service and honoring commitments are sliding across the board. Last month, I listened to a gate agent lecture a 6 a.m. flyer who foolishly thought she could get to her destination in a single day, saying the airline wasn’t obligated to put her on a different airline until she had been stuck in transit for 48 hours. Separately, three contractors I called for glass cutting informed me that they couldn’t commit to a time for quoting or delivery but would a call an hour before they arrived. One finally did call back a week later and got the job. The other two still haven’t called back. When all competitors in a market are getting away with behaving badly, mediocrity thrives.
Strategic conversations are key to sustaining existing business.
The current business environment is creating two significant challenges for mid-tier electronics manufacturing services companies at a strategic planning level. The first is program management workload. Material exceptions have become the norm, and program teams have become highly reactive to respond to changing program variables. Second, material constraints are causing OEMs to keep projects at their current suppliers and push out launch plans on new products. Taken together, planning for account growth beyond what is automatically going in the pipeline based on spikes in existing demand may not be a great use of program management time.
While it is unlikely a significant number of projects will be awarded in the short term, a lot of dynamics in the background make strategically assessing larger accounts an important activity right now. These include: