Does Your Brand Sing? Future Talent Is Listening

We can have all the Chips Acts we want, but the action is no good if you don’t have designers, process engineers, fab technicians, and others in the value chain to fulfill the objectives of these acts. The post Does Your Brand Sing? Future Talent Is Listening appeared first on EETimes.

Does Your Brand Sing? Future Talent Is Listening

Semiconductors are in vogue. Look at any mainstream media and there’s some commentary or narrative on chips, supply chains, shortages, and even the technologies themselves. For example, I met with the CEO of graphene startup Paragraf this month and within days, I saw him covered in major news features in the U.K.’s The Times and Financial Times. The narrative is political and gives mainstream readers a peek into the technologies and the manufacturing process.

However, all this new fame for our industry is no good unless the next generation of talent is encouraged to make a career in the sector. We can have all the Chips Acts we want, but the action is no good if you don’t have designers, process engineers, fab technicians, and others in the value chain to fulfill the objectives of these acts.

A report just published by Accenture delves into the challenges faced by the semiconductor industry in addressing the talent gap which is becoming more and more of a challenge for the traditional chip industry. That’s because those who do study engineering or science and technology subjects are attracted to the glamor of the hyperscalers, automotive companies, consumer brands, and professional services firms that offer competitive packages, brand perks, and promises.

According to the Accenture report, “The competitive etch: Addressing the talent gap,” a 2021 survey of engineering students indicated that most undergraduates would prefer to work at brand-name software and services firms like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon, plus aerospace players—Lockheed, Boeing, Northrup Grumman, Raytheon, GE, and NASA are good examples—and automotive leaders like Tesla, General Motors, and Ford. It adds that even before high-potential (science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) students reach their college campuses, they have already developed strong perceptions of prestigious tech companies. “This reaffirms how disadvantaged semiconductor companies are in brand equity,” the report said.

The bigger issue is that the talent gap will be a huge obstacle to meeting the self-sufficiency and resilience targets that several nations are aiming for in semiconductor supply chains. The report states that for the U.S. alone, to become self-sufficient in the semiconductor sector, the country would need to capture an additional 20% of global chip production, translating into 74 to 80 net new fabs and 300,000 total semiconductor fab positions created.

Many countries are driving for self-sufficiency in semiconductors. (Source: Accenture)

In addition, if the focus is just on meeting domestic demand for only critical semiconductor applications—such as automotive, home appliances, and aerospace and defense—18 to 20 additional fabs staffed by 70,000 to 90,000 highly skilled personnel would still be required.

Not taking into account the public and private sector investment needed to operationalize these fabs, finding the right talent to run the fabs on a global scale will be a major challenge.

But how do you grow the pipeline of talent? According to the report, very few semiconductor companies have early-education STEM initiatives. This is in contrast to companies like Meta, Google, and Amazon whose initiatives target students as early as middle school in areas like robotics lab programs and coding.

Qualcomm stands out as better-prepared than most chip players, however. The report calls the company’s Thinkabit Lab a leading example in the industry, engaging more than 78,000 students in the U.S. in internet-of-things–themed summer projects across its 16 innovation campuses.

Another approach is that of Applied Materials, which funnels investment into local STEM education programs in central Texas to community STEM grants in Montana. Meanwhile, trade association SEMI sponsors High Tech U, where high school students take part in a two- or three-day program to develop hands-on experience within microelectronics and semiconductors.

The report indicates that most other semiconductor players fall short in comparison in terms of growing pipeline by attracting high school students into appropriate STEM initiatives. Conversely, the report acknowledges that the average American high school curriculum fails to expose high-potential STEM students to engineering disciplines beyond computer science, which means many students are unfamiliar with the core subject knowledge or exposure needed to want to work in the semiconductor sector.

Another aspect of the industry highlighted in the report is that recruiting profiles are not very well defined, and that chip companies would be better off looking at alternative and diverse skillsets beyond just “electronics.”

Design engineering roles are likely to have very specialized degree requirements, but fab technicians would often arrive from a different route.

GlobalFoundries trains new community college/traditional four-year college graduates to fill open technician and process engineering roles and upskill them to fill demand, the report notes. It suggests that this strategy is both cost-effective and feasible in the near term.

Somewhat counter to the geopolitical aims of the various Chips Acts, the report asserts that the industry needs to be able to retain international graduates.

The semiconductor industry is highly dependent on international talent. (Source: Accenture)

Every stage of the semiconductor value chain is extremely dependent upon international STEM talent. In particular, North American universities have been a magnet for the world’s brightest STEM talent and the primary channel through which foreign-born semiconductor talent has come to the U.S. International students account for two-thirds of graduate students in electrical engineering and computer science, and they have been the primary source of growth of semiconductor talent over the last three decades, the report states.

However, once these highly skilled individuals receive their diplomas, the current immigration law landscape makes it difficult to remain in the U.S.

The key takeaways on my read of the report are that the semiconductor industry needs to do more to attract students much earlier, especially at the high school level, similar to what hyperscalers and other “big tech” companies are doing. The allure of the more glamorous brand-name tech companies is something the semiconductor sector must counter—whether they are similar incentives or other brand perks. The recruiting profiles need to be better defined to ensure the right skillsets and skill levels are targeted for all the different roles in the diverse supply chain.

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