The Whys and Hows of EMS Program Manager Certification

17 March 2008

Susan Mucha

Are your program managers certified? While offsite training may seem to be an unnecessary overhead expense in a time of some economic uncertainty, the better question may be ‘can you afford to not certify your program managers?’

For many electronics manufacturing services (EMS) providers, program management is the primary function driving account profitability and growth. But, the challenge for many EMS providers is the length of time it takes to turn an engineer or businessperson into a great program manager. When a great program manager leaves or retires, there is often a significant learning curve for the replacement.

In 2002, IPC introduced an EMS Program Management Certification program. The program was developed as a result of widespread demand from members of IPC’s EMS Management Council. The EMS Management council is a group comprised of senior staff members at a wide range of EMS providers. The group holds semi-annual meetings, which focus on industry issues. In some cases, the meeting is primarily an education and networking opportunity, but the Council has also suggested needed programs and standards, which were then developed and implemented by IPC. The next meeting is scheduled for Las Vegas on March 31st.

The rationale behind the certification program was that program managers typically evolve into the position rather than being specifically trained for it. Often that leaves a program manager strong in some skills, but weak in others. A good example is an engineer turned program manager with strong skills in manufacturing, but little knowledge of finance and accounting principles.

The training has four components:

 Introduction to the EMS Industry and Program Management – a 1.5 day offsite training class which covers the basic elements of program management, account acquisition and program launch, account cultivation and expectation setting, basic manufacturing process overview and industry best practices.
 EMS Training I – a self-paced internet-based segment that provides students with access to packaged basic courses on team leadership, program management tools, decision making, project cost and quality management, project risk and procurement management, financial statements and analysis, budgeting, relationship-management, supply chain management and commercial contracts.
 EMS Training II – a two-day offsite training class which covers operations management, EMS-specific financial issues and EMS-specific contract issues.
 EMS Leadership Training – a two-day offsite training program co-developed by IPC and Penn State University and taught by Penn State Management Development faculty which includes leadership challenges of the future, effective communication practices, conflict resolution and dealing with difficult people.

The certification program includes a detailed certification exam. Candidates start the process by submitting an application process which lists formal education and EMS-specific experience. Program managers meeting the application experience requirements, taking the training and passing the certification exam are certified for four years and may continue to recertify by documenting continuing EMS-industry experience and education. Program managers meeting the experience requirements may take the exam without participating in the training. If they pass, they receive a provisional certification.

At present, the onsite training is held in the U.S. and predominately attended by North American-based program managers, although some Asia-based EMS providers have sent personnel. The onsite classes and exam are held 5-6 times per year in multiple cities, to allow some flexibility in scheduling and geographic preference. A key value of the onsite training is the interchange of ideas among the students. Most find that issues they thought were unique to their companies are in fact fairly widespread. Many leave with ideas for improvements to make in their organizations. Another point of value is the fact that instructors for the Introduction and EMS II classes all have EMS industry experience. This allows these segments to be highly focused on EMS rather than general business issues.

The IPC EMS Program Management Certification Program and the EMS Management meeting offer great tools for EMS companies wishing to broaden their teams’ competencies and breadth of knowledge. For more information on the certification program, click here .


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