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Peter Brooks, chief executive officer, EY

EY is a non-profit company with a board of directors drawn from the electronics industry, who serve on an independent nonexecutive basis. Chris Shaw speaks with Peter Brooks, chief executive officer.

EY's aim is to support and assist the growth of the electronics sector through training, technical support and networking. However, a number of 'experts' talk about a dearth of young people looking to enter electronics design. EY has been actively working to encourage students in an interesting and - importantly - fun way.

Peter Brooks, chief executive officer at EY explained: "We have a specific programme which is now four years old - our mobile training unit, housed in a 7.5 ton truck. It opens out a hydraulic pod arrangement which turns into a classroom. It's fully AV equipped so we can play dvds or work with Powerpoint, in fact we can equip it with whatever we choose."

The mobile educational facility provides a wide range of school children to get the opportunity to experience electronics design first hand. Brooks explained: "We offer a free service to schools and we aim to encourage children around 13 to 14 to get involved. When we visit schools, the kids have a day's practical experience making small kits and studying bare boards, backs of components and are inspired to create."

So far, around 1000 children have benefitted from the resource and such has been the success, that EY is scheduled to visit many more until March 2010. "The schools love it and the teachers love it," Brooks noted. "The feedback has been universally good. And while we're not naive enough to think they will all rush off to go into the electronics industry, a very high percentage of kids we spoke to said they would certainly consider it."

With the economic downturn, the recent downturn has had a significant impact on nearly every aspect of the electronics sector, so what has Brooks observed and has there been an effect on the numbers of people seeking to enter the profession?

Brooks noted: "We're seeing a mixed picture overall. Because we do spend a lot of time talking to member companies, we get a broad view of the industry. So although some have been making redundancies, others are so busy they don't know where to turn. This is typical across the country. It's an odd recession and nobody seems to know exactly how to handle it. So while some of the companies that have a more diverse range to offer are at the busy end – niche companies are struggling. There's nothing for them to quickly fall back on. It's the uncertainty, not necessarily the people that is making it difficult. Many people have just been sitting tight, too cautious to step into the unknown. It's understandable, but if that's the stance you take as a purchaser that will have a significant effect on the supplier.

"We try to work closely with our universities to encourage them to work closer with industry. We've spoken with them to see what kind of research they do, in particular any practical research. We now offer student membership to anybody on a university level electronics course and have about 60 student members."

Since the recession kicked in, many companies have had to hold a tighter rein on budgets. So why shouldn't companies hold back on skills investment to save money? Brooks believes that the only argument that holds water is if a company is on its last legs and needs to avoid spending money if redundancies are likely. "People are cautious," he said, "and it's easy to make an assumption that things may get worse. I suggest that holding back on skills investment is only a short term solution. The downturn will pass. It won't last forever. So, now is the perfect opportunity to use the time constructively. Get training now and you will be in a much better position once things start to pick up."

Who should consider joining the EY Network – and why? "Training is a commercial arrangement. We offer a 20% discount to a full fee paying member. Our technology centre has an x-ray inspection chamber, test equipment and stereo microscopes – and people get discounts as members, not to mention assistance and advice from our staff. We don't work in a production sense, we help people track down flaws in their production process, helping them discover what they may need to change. Those kind of services.

"We also offer tendering services, people submit a tender to us, we put on line in a stripped down basis and member companies can respond. A real and practical solution. It has been a great success – one company had four 4 contracts from this service. This also helps build a community."
Brooks has observed that member companies that use EY's seminars initially consider themselves in competition with others. However, they soon discover that they can collaborate, or bid jointly for a project. "It's about building communication lines and networking," he explained.

Chris Shaw

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