Limited supply of qualified workers poses challenge as facilities build to boost global supply of semiconductors
Many industries are facing labor shortage. While chip makers have an advantage because their processes are most automated, the high-tech equipment used in their facilities still requires skilled workers to operate it. The expansion that is taking place now is creating extraordinary demand for personnel, often in specific areas.
“We’re definitely in a war for talent,” said Jim Koonman, executive vice president of semiconductor production equipment maker ASML Holding NV.
The new chip-making facilities, known as fabrication plants or “fabs,” required thousands of college-educated engineers to operate. Technicians oversee and manage the manufacturing process, while researchers help to innovate new types of chips and methods of manufacturing them.
“This entire semiconductor industry, the skills that need to be developed, to support the construction of our factories from anywhere in the manufacturing industry, down to the most advanced researchers,” said Intel. Corporation
Executive Vice President Ann Kelleher, who previously oversaw the company’s construction operations, said in a recent congressional hearing.
Intel has promised to invest more than $100 billion in chip-factory investments in the coming years in the US and Europe. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.
, samsung electronics Co.
And others have even bigger expansion plans.
In the US alone, projected fab expansion will require the addition of 70,000 to 90,000 or more employees by 2025 to meet the most critical workforce needs, according to a report by talent-management company, Eightfold.AI. The more ambitious expansion to make the US independent of foreign supplies, which some members of Congress are urging, would raise that figure to an additional 300,000 workers, according to the study.
In Taiwan, a global powerhouse in chip making, the recruitment gap is at its highest level in six years, according to 104 Job Bank. An August report by the recruitment platform estimated that the average monthly reduction in semiconductor workers was about 27,700 employees, up 44% from the previous year. The report noted that monthly average wages in chip manufacturing reached the highest level in a decade.
“The problem of talent shortage has become even more serious, mainly due to increased demand,” said Yao-Wen Chang, dean of the National Taiwan University College of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, one of Taiwan’s top engineering programs. “I’m not optimistic that we can completely solve this problem.”
At ASML, Mr. Koonman said the Dutch company’s staffing needs are expected to increase by 10% or more in the coming years, to meet the growing demand for its equipment driven by the increase in new chip plants around the world. Can go
To attract employees, Mr. Coonman said, “we are upping our game on several fronts,” including strengthening its recruiting function. He added that the company is improving its search for the right talent and deepening ties with universities for a pipeline of graduates. The company needs people with skills that range from optics to software skills to electrical engineering.
Global Foundries Inc.
Chief Financial Officer David Reeder said: “To my mind the US labor market is probably the most competitive labor market for us.” He said it is likely to remain a tight market for several years.
Engineering professors said interest in chip manufacturing among college graduates has waned in recent years, as many now prefer to find jobs in software or Internet services without paying substantial salaries to earn doctoral degrees. are reluctant.
Professor Santosh Kurinek of the Rochester Institute of Technology said the number of students enrolled in the school’s undergraduate electrical-engineering program has dropped from about 50 in the mid-1980s to about 10 now.
“Some people want to make an app for Google and Facebook and others,” she said.
In Taiwan, a lack of highly skilled engineers could derail efforts to stay at the forefront of advanced technology as semiconductors become more complex. “We need more doctoral degrees that also participate in the next generation for the semiconductor industry,” said Terry Tsao, global chief marketing officer of industry association SEMI and president of its Taiwan branch.
Governments can play an important role in the rush to attract talent. Chip companies in the US have lobbied lawmakers to allow them to hire from overseas as the number of American graduates has dwindled and graduate enrollment has shifted toward foreign students.
In May, Taiwan passed a law to promote innovation and education in high-tech areas such as semiconductors, allowing several Taiwanese universities to start specialized semiconductor colleges in partnership with companies, including TSMC.
TSMC President Mark Liu said at a December Tech Forum in Taipei, “I believe that industry-academic collaboration can form a foundation for the next 10 years of Taiwan’s semiconductor industry, and will help attract foreign experts.” and hopes to increase talent circulation.”
Mainland China has launched specialized semiconductor research schools and training centers as part of its pursuit for self-sufficiency in advanced technologies, including chips and artificial intelligence. Twelve Chinese universities have established chip-focused colleges as of December, including some of the country’s most prestigious institutions, including Peking University and Tsinghua University.
Ivan Platonov, research manager at Beijing-based technology research company Equaloan, estimates that China’s semiconductor labor force has nearly doubled in the past five years as a result of increased investment in the chip sector. However, there was a shortage of around 250,000 engineers in the country in 2020.
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—Asa Fitch, Yang Jie, Reddy Zhao and Robert Wall contributed to this article.
Write Stephanie Yang at [email protected]