Semiconductor Industry Needs to Address Talent Shortage

Article By : Anne-Françoise Pelé

Capturing the semiconductor industry size of $1 trillion by 2030 will only be possible if the talent shortage is addressed on a global level.

The global semiconductor market is expected to reach $1 trillion by 2030 as the Covid-19 has accelerated the shift to a digital economy. What factors are helping and affecting the growth? What actions are needed to address them? At the recent Leti’s Innovation Days, Ajit Manocha, president and CEO of SEMI, stressed that closing the talent gap is “extremely critical for the success and the growth of our industry.”

The global semiconductor market now amounts about $500 billion, with the potential to reach $1 trillion in 2030. Quoting Handel Jones, CEO of International Business Strategies (IBS), Manocha said the memory sector will increase by a factor of 3 from $133 billion in 2020 to $440 billion in 2030 and the non-memory sector will grow by a factor of 2.5, from $235 billion to $558 billion in 2030.

However, capturing the semiconductor industry size of $1 trillion by 2030 will only be possible if the talent shortage is addressed on a global level.

“We can probably deal with all the factors that come in our way, and we can probably learn how to deal with natural disasters like a pandemic,” said Manocha. “But the chip shortage and the growth of the industry will get further hampered if we don’t solve the talent problem.”

Source: SEMI

Governmental awareness

Covid-19 has accelerated the digital transformation of all aspects of our society, and “there has been a realization that the semiconductor industry is extremely vital for our future.” At all levels, from individuals to governments.

“For the first time, I have seen a picture of a US president holding a chip in his hand and calling it infrastructure,” said Manocha. Realizing the strategic importance of semiconductors and their ever-increasing implication for economic competitiveness, U.S. President Joe Biden recently displayed a SkyWater wafer at a White House technology summit focused on easing the semiconductor shortage. In early June, Senator Amy Klobuchar and other Minnesota politicians visited SkyWater’s facilities.

“This is an important step forward. I had never seen, in my forty-year history, any country president or big leader talking about chips. We were taken for granted, but not anymore.” The Covid-19 pandemic has created a global chip shortage and highlighted the risks and vulnerabilities in the semiconductor supply chain. Resilience has therefore become a priority for governments around the world.

In March, the European Commission presented its ‘Digital Compass’, which stated the intent to have manufacturing capacities below 5nm nodes and aiming at 2nm, and the production of 20% by value of global semiconductor production in Europe.

In early June, the U.S Senate passed the United States Innovation and Competition Act that allocates $52 billion for domestic semiconductor research, design, and manufacturing initiatives.

Educational priority

As social media and digital companies gained ground, they became the young job-seeker’s darlings. Things are changing, and students graduating from universities are starting to realize that “digital companies cannot exist without a chip,” said Manocha.

It will take time to have an effect on the talent shortage, and governments must take immediate steps to educate, train, and upskill existing workforces. “Governments have realized that we need to support STEM education and skills development,” said Manocha.

In 2019, SEMI and 19 partners from 14 countries launched the METIS – Microelectronics Training, Industry and Skills – initiative to fill the skills gap and boost workforce diversity by strengthening collaboration between the microelectronics industry and education providers. The four-year project focuses on the skills and related training needed to support emerging verticals such as artificial intelligence, autonomous driving and Industry 4.0 in Europe.

In 2020, the National Science Foundation, an independent agency of the U.S. government that supports fundamental research and education in all the non-medical fields of science and engineering, invested $104 million to launch four new Engineering Research Centers.

SEMI’s CEO Ajit Manocha

Because it is never too early to introduce children to science, technology, engineering, and math, Manocha said SEMI promotes STEM education from elementary school to the university levels. “This is really starting to make some impact, and I am sure that, in the coming years, we will make a much bigger impact in dealing with the talent shortage, not just in the U.S. but around the world,” said Manocha.

Last week, the French Ministry of Education has announced a partnership with “42”, the free computer programming school created and funded by French technology entrepreneur Xavier Niel. Starting in September, several 8-year-old pupils will be able to get hands-on experience in coding. The project, which could be extended to the entire territory by 2022, aims to reinforce the teaching of “digital culture” by integrating an introductory program to computer coding and technologies into the elementary curriculum.

This example is just one of many that illustrate the growing awareness in Europe and the rest of the world.

Train and retain

Manocha said SEMI has launched a number of initiatives to attract, develop and retain talent in the semiconductor industry. The SEMI Foundation’s Global Workforce Development Initiative aims to develop the talent pipeline by connecting the workforce needs with the education system to ensure skilled workers for the electronics manufacturing industry. Programs are designed to reach multiple audiences: K-12 youth; students advancing their education in college, university and graduate programs; and in-career individuals who need to re-skill and up-skill.

For instance, the VetWorks Program is creating a toolkit to help member companies engage, hire, and train military veterans. They indeed represent a strong talent pool of highly motivated employees who possess many valuable skills and experience (e.g., avionics, hydraulics, mechanics, and radio frequency) required by our industry.

This article was originally published on EE Times Europe.

Anne-Françoise Pelé is editor-in-chief of eetimes.eu and EE Times Europe.

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