Active Steps to Encourage Our Next Gen of Tech Talent

This International Women in Engineering Day, we hear from Jemma Howarth, who describes her desire to be hands on in tech development.

Jemma is 22 years young and is currently a Manufacturing Technician at Active EMS.

In this interview, Gayle Paterson, Founder of FLITE, spoke to Jemma about a day in her life as a woman within a manufacturing and engineering environment.

Gayle: Hi, Jemma, tell me a bit about yourself.

Jemma:  I am your typical 22-year-old, in that in normal times, and in a post COVID world, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends.  I also ski and enjoy everything that that sport entails, from the stunning scenery and the cold crisp air to the adrenaline rush that it gives me.

Gayle:  What is your current role in electronics manufacturing?

Jemma:  I started to work in the electronics industry in 2017, so four years ago, which I appreciate as we look at the data around the ageing workforce in electronics manufacturing, that makes me just a baby, but I’ve certainly came up a steep learning curve during this time.

I pursued a career in electronics manufacturing as I knew I wanted a hands-on occupation.  I’m a practical thinker and I like to understand how things work from the bottom up.  This means, that I like to technically review, analyse, assess, look inside, see the mechanics in how things operate and then put everything back together again.  My role in Active EMS expanded on my curious mind and takes it to an advanced level, where you can literally see electronics products come to life from concept in front of your eyes.  To be part of that, is yet again a real adrenaline rush.

A day in the life of a technician in Active EMS can see me operate as a Printed Circuit Board Assembler, working on the soldering station, and/or assembling final products before they are distributed to our customer, or our customer’s customer.  So, it’s a diverse role and no two days are the same.

We work across all main Electronics Manufacturing Service provider (EMS) market segments, from the traditional industrial, into the non-traditional Internet of Things (IoT) divisions.  This keeps our business diverse and interesting.  It also means that I am multi-skilled.  We work on everything from small handheld devices to large form factor products and our batch sizes range from one to 100,000 units.  This means as a team, we must be incredibly flexible and agile to respond to varying market needs, and environments.  Forecast fluctuations, especially at this time mean we work closely with our production planners and materials to ensure our supply chain is adaptive to our customer’s needs and the end-market requirements.

Gayle:  What about your recent achievements and challenges in your chosen career?

The management team at Active EMS asked me if I’d be interested in becoming the facility Fire Marshall.  I hesitated at first, but then stepped up to the challenge, as I was really honoured that they had A) asked me, and B) saw me as a responsible person that they could turn to in the event of an emergency.  I am so pleased that I took on the additional role as it gives me a sense of duty and pride that I’m responsible for the safety, health, and wellbeing of my colleagues. 

In Electronics Manufacturing Services, you face challenges daily, but we are fortunate in Active EMS that we work as a team, in an extended family way, to ensure that we meet our customers’ production forecasts, our systems and processes are transparent and simple, keeping us and our customers informed, always, and in real-time, of any supply chain issues throughout the production lifecycle.

Gayle:  Do you feel that electronics manufacturing is a male dominated field?

We appreciate that Active EMS is not a fair representation of the electronics industry as over 50% of our workforce is female.  In Active EMS, my colleagues, who are women, work in various roles from Marketing and Communications to Human Resources, to Procurement, Purchasing, and Production.

However, putting Active EMS to one side and reviewing the industry, I’d say that there is not gender parity.

For me, it stems back to education.  Even in my time, boys were encouraged to pursue a career in the science, mathematics, and technical subjects, whilst girls the arts and language.  This leads to boys seeing engineering as an option, but us girls never learning that art is engineering!

This then carries down the line to employment.  If girls aren’t encouraged to follow STEM subjects in school, then the balance is wrong when positions within Science, Technical, Engineering, and Mathematic based roles become available. For every five men in the interview room, there is one woman.  That can then be incredibly intimidating for women, who don’t want to just exist in a man’s world but want to thrive in a balanced environment.

Gayle:  Why do you think it is important to encourage woman into electronics manufacturing roles?

There is an ageing workforce and a skills gap shortage in electronics manufacturing.  Therefore, to remain at the level of output that is required for the UK to maintain its competitive position on a global scale, we need new blood.  Research has shown that the most successful companies are those that have gender parity in the workplace.  Therefore, the solution to our ageing workforce, skills gap shortage, and how to be more successful is staring us in the face.  We need to encourage women into tech, and this needs to start in schools.  Schools need to be encouraged to show an accurate picture of what a career in electronics manufacturing looks like.  Then the perception for all is accurate.

As far as we are concerned in Active EMS, there is a role for everyone in engineering.  Engineering should represent everyone.  If the person holds the right values and is keen to learn and develop, then why not. Electrical engineering provides all with the opportunity to grow and reach higher aspirations, and that’s not qualities that are gender specific.

About Active EMS

A dedicated Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS) company offering bespoke solutions to customers with individual needs.

Strategically located in Manchester, recognised for its industrial prowess, we are an integrated manufacturing provider that enables partners to grow by offering in-house prototyping, Design for Manufacture (DFM), manufacturing, logistics capabilities, resources, and our very own people power.

We work across all industry segments, from automotive to medical to infrastructure, and beyond. From handheld, to massive electromechanical products, Active EMS provides every market with a robust supply chain solution.

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