Based in Oxford, UK
How is the semiconductor industry tackling the challenges of the expertise shortage?
Examples of how industry and academia are collaborating to resolve the ongoing deficit of talent in the semiconductor industry.
Why is there a problem?
As technology advances, the global semiconductor industry is facing higher demand for chips. With the automotive and electronics industries progressing rapidly, and as the digital revolution unveils new applications such as AI, machine learning, and automated systems, it becomes increasingly important for the semiconductor industry to keep pace with growing demand.
A report by consultancy firm Deloitte has predicted that by 2030, the semiconductor workforce will need to grow by over one million additional skilled workers globally to match demand.
The global outlook
Global distribution of semiconductor facilities is concentrated primarily in East Asia, which enjoys around 80% of total chip production in the world. Taiwan, which houses the manufacturing powerhouse TSMC, is experiencing a particularly acute shortage of skilled workers.
The USA is increasingly becoming a secondary hub for semiconductor manufacturing, as is encouraged through the US CHIPS and Science Act. This act seeks to incentivize investment in new fabs to develop a US chip infrastructure, but the success of this endeavour will depend heavily on a skilled workforce to staff these new facilities. Accenture posits that self-sufficiency in chip production for the US would mean capturing 20% of global chip production, requiring the construction of up to 80 new fabs, and the creation of over 300,000 semiconductor fabrication jobs.
Europe is another growing market for semiconductors, and the European Union is acting to secure this trajectory through policy-driven investment. In April 2023 the EU Chips Act set out a €43 billion plan for its semiconductor industry and aims to amass 20% of global chip output by 2030. This act names addressing the skills shortage as one of its main goals, promising to 'foster skills, talent and innovation in microelectronics’.
With such ambitious plans announced by regions which are all competing for market shares in the semiconductor industry, the development of a skilled workforce to staff the planned shiny new facilities is vital to their successful implementation.
Semiconductor manufacturing facilities use incredibly complex machinery, with each machine requiring specific knowledge to operate it. As such the complexity of fab machinery limits dynamism in the workforce, as staff have site- and process-specific knowledge that cannot be easily transferred.
The rapid development of technology within the chip industry is another barrier, as educational programs can quickly become outdated, resulting in further training requirements for engineers when they go into the workforce.
In the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, staff retention has also become a pertinent concern as changing expectations around flexibility in the workplace no longer align with a fab’s operational requirements. Semiconductor manufacturing occurs around the clock and problems can arise which require attention at any time of day or night which for many is not an appealing schedule.
Higher education initiatives
Providing educational programs for future facilities engineers will be crucial to expanding the pool of skilled workers in the semiconductor industry. Thorough, up-to-date training is the key, and this can be accomplished by partnerships between semiconductor manufacturers and educational institutions.
- For example, the University of Texas System has announced various programs designed to support the semiconductor industry, such as the future Texas Institute for Electronics (TIE), and the North Texas Semiconductor Institute (NTxSI).
- GlobalFoundries recently announced a partnership with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York, to create an elective semiconductor manufacturing course for advanced undergraduate and early graduate students.
- Purdue University recently launched a unique semiconductor degree program in partnership with top chip-manufacturers. Purdue has also gone international with its educational efforts, signing an agreement with the government of India for a five-year deal that will explore dual-degree programs in microelectronics and semiconductors with specialized online or hybrid academic programs.
- Micron announced the launch of the US-Japan University Partnership for Workforce Advancement and Research & Development in Semiconductors (UPWARDS) for the Future. This program will foster cross-collaboration by bringing together over 10 universities from across the US and Japan to create a rigorous semiconductor training course.
These announced training programs and educational opportunities show the importance of growing an adequate pool of talent for the semiconductor industry in future. Institutions and manufacturers alike must take an early interest in the education of future semiconductor employees to keep pace with ever-growing demand.
To that end, UPM is cultivating a modular training program for recent graduates in engineer positions within semiconductor facilities. UPM University will provide key resources, challenging interactive coursework, and crucial guidance from industry experts, in order to deliver essential training for work within a fab environment, culminating in a certification for those who pass the course.