The Wall Street Journal: The crisis in the supply of skilled manpower in the semiconductor industry is aggravating the global shortage of chips
Skilled worker shortage And the qualification has been a concern of semiconductor industry managers for years. From their point of view, this concern has now intensified with the new wave of labor shortages in the world and meeting the growing demand for digital tools, along with the competition of governments to strengthen chip production capabilities inside, has added to the complexity of solving this problem.
Today, many industries are facing a labor shortage, and in the meantime, chip manufacturers have a relative advantage. Because their production processes are among the most automatic methods. However, advanced equipment used in chip manufacturing facilities still requires skilled workers for optimal performance; This has created a huge demand for employees in specialized fields.
Intel has pledged to invest more than $100 billion in factories in the United States and Europe in the coming years. TSMC, Samsung and other top brands in the industry have also stepped up extensive plans to be omnipresent in this area. have implemented The new chip manufacturing facilities, which are known as fabs, require thousands of educated engineers with university expertise who, along with the technicians overseeing the production process, implement the innovations of researchers. But it is difficult to meet this wide need due to the market conditions. As in Taiwan, where TSMC is the leading manufacturer of advanced chips including A series and M series Apple established, this issue has become a crisis. In fact, even though the major customers of this group, including Apple, have taken over the design of the chips themselves, TSMC still needs expert workers to set up factories, and the level of this need is constantly increasing.
According to the employment agency 104 Job Bank, the employment gap between labor supply and demand in Taiwan has reached its highest level in the last six years. Also, based on the report published in August 2021 by this recruitment platform, it is estimated that the average monthly shortage of workers in the semiconductor sector is about 27,200 people; A number that shows a 44% increase compared to last year. This report has also pointed to the increase in the average monthly income in the chip production sector, and has announced that the salaries paid to specialists in this field have reached the highest level in more than a decade.
Yao-Wen Chang, dean of the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at National Taiwan University, which is one of the top engineering training centers in the country, says: “The problem is the lack of talent [and the required expertise] ] has become more intense mainly due to increased demand. I’m not very optimistic about being able to completely solve this problem.”
Taiwan’s shortage of skilled engineers may complicate the country’s efforts to stay at the forefront of advanced technology; And that is in a situation where semiconductor products and their production are continuously becoming more complex. Terry Tsao, chief marketing officer of the SEMI Industry Association and president of the Taiwan branch of the association, says: “Attracting PhD holders is more necessary than ever to be able to use them in the next generation of the semiconductor industry.”
Meanwhile, the behind-the-scenes nature of the chip industry is another challenge in the process of attracting software engineers to this sector. Because unlike fields such as designing and developing programs and apps, there is no way to introduce developers to consumers and increase their reputation.
According to Mrs. Santosh Kurinec, Rochester Institute of Technology professor, the number of students enrolled in the microelectronics electrical engineering undergraduate program for designing and manufacturing semiconductors in this school has steadily decreased, from about 50 people in the mid-1980s has now reached about 10 people. From his point of view, young people often want to “build an application to be released on Google, Facebook and similar companies” and do not have much desire to participate in infrastructure sectors.
On the other hand, in a country like the United States, strict restrictions on the number of engineers that can be hired from abroad and the conditions for issuing work visas for them have created another difficulty in meeting the needs of the semiconductor industry. According to Apple’s new report, restrictions on the global supply of chips have cost the American company as much as $6 billion in the fourth quarter of 2021 alone.
Also, according to a report by talent management company Eightfold.ai, in the United States alone, about 70,000 to 90,000 workers will need to be added to the workforce by 2025 to meet the basic needs for the expected expansion in the chip manufacturing sector. to be According to studies by the institute, a more ambitious expansion plan, which is desired by some members of Congress, and which envisages complete independence of the United States from the supply of parts from abroad, will increase the need for skilled workers by even 300,000 people.
Of course, in the intense competition to attract top talents, governments have a special role. For example, following the decrease in the number of American graduates and the change in the registration process towards foreign students, the chip manufacturing companies in the United States are trying to obtain permission to hire foreign workers in bargaining with the country’s legislators.
In May 2021, the Taiwanese government passed a law to promote innovation and education in the high-tech sector, including the semiconductor industry; The law that has led to the establishment of specialized training centers through the cooperation of Taiwanese universities and the participation of companies such as TSMC. In this regard, Mark Liu, the chairman of the board of directors of TSMC company, welcomes the cooperation of industry and university and believes that this joint effort can solve the future needs of the industry in Taiwan, gradually and within ten years. This, along with attracting foreign talents, will overcome the problems of the Taiwanese chip maker.
China has also set up specialized and research schools for semiconductors and training related to their production in an effort to be self-sufficient in the field of advanced technologies, including chips and artificial intelligence. Also, twelve Chinese universities have established colleges with a curriculum focused on chip design and manufacturing since December last year, including Beijing and Tsinghua University.
Ivan Platonov, Beijing-based research director EqualOcean estimates that China’s semiconductor industry workforce has nearly doubled in the past five years due to increased investment in the chip sector, yet the country still faces a shortage of 250,000 engineers in 2020. has been faced.