Earlier this month, there were reports (here and here) that contract chipmaker giant Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is “struggling to recruit and retain engineers” in its foundries (semiconductor chip manufacturing factories or fabs).
“TSMC said its new hires who have been with the company for less than 12 months had a turnover rate of 17.6%, missing the internal target that TSMC had of 15% and is much, much worse than the rate. 6.8% average turnover within TSMC,” one of the reports said.
Last week, the online news publication The register published an article (presumably centered on the United States) in which he said: “As the global chip shortage shows signs of easing, semiconductor companies face another area where demand outstrips supply: microelectronics engineers.”
Chipmakers like Intel, TSMC, and Samsung are all trying to expand their manufacturing capacity in the United States (US), but that can’t happen if there aren’t enough engineers to design, manufacture and check for chips, among other things. necessary roles.
This is not the first time such concerns have surfaced – as early as January this year, EE Times reported that TSMC is facing challenges managing employees at its new Arizona plant who are unaccustomed to the long hours and management culture, which in Taiwan has helped make the company the largest chip foundry in the world.
And in May, Nikkei Asia released a report titled “TSMC Faces Uphill Battle in US Talent Wars.”
Note that TSMC founder Morris Change warned the company against plans to expand into the US (See: swarajya July 2021 article, Taiwan News article from October 2021, a podcast from April 2022).
Several factors may slow the global expansion plans of chipmaking giants like Intel, TSMC and Samsung. The United States has yet to approve the $52 billion package through the CHIPS Act and concerns have been raised by industry executives. Inflation and anticipation of recession led to some chip order cancellations. Delays in semiconductor manufacturing equipment continue.
However, given the cyclical nature of the semiconductor industry and the fact that the chip (IC) market is expected to grow from $500 billion (which it reached in 50 years) to nearly $1 trillion by 2030-31 and, possibly, $2 trillion by 2035. -36, things should pick up sooner rather than later.
Regarding efforts to boost the semiconductor ecosystem in India, approval decisions are still awaited from the India Semiconductor Mission (ISM) on the three applications received in mid-February for candidates for the construction of silicon factories in India. After that, the incentive program should be reopened for a second round of applicants.
ISM seems to have taken small steps toward building a talent pool in semiconductor design. Last week, at the inauguration of Digital India Week in Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the first cohort of 30 institutions to be supported under the Chips to Startup (C2S) scheme.
The C2S program aims to train specialized personnel in the field of semiconductor chip design at bachelor’s, master’s and research levels, and to act as a catalyst for the growth of startups involved in semiconductor design in the country. . It offers mentorship at the organizational level and provides institutions with state-of-the-art design facilities. This is part of ISM to build a strong design ecosystem for semiconductors.
However, there is still no clarity on how ISM plans to help develop talent for the new high-volume semiconductor fabs expected to sprout in India in the next two to three months. years and begin to be operational within one to two years. .
In fact, talent is needed not only after the fabs are running, but even to build the factory in the most optimal way, to efficiently equip the production line for maximum capacity utilization, and in such a way that problems performance issues can be quickly resolved, among other reasons. .
Perhaps the global shortage of talent for semiconductor fabs (construction, operation and analysis – at different levels of academic qualification) can be an opportunity for India to “train Indians for India and the world”. “.
India already has many engineers taking courses related to microelectronics and VLSI (very large scale integration) and hence have a foundation in these fields. However, what they lack is industry exposure and a sense of how different methods and mindset can be in industry compared to academics.
Deals can be made with Taiwan, the United States and other countries that are planning to build fabs and in return companies that want to hire them should be invited to take advantage of India’s incentive program (up to 50% from central government; states can offer more) when the program opens for a second round.
Among the Indian students who wish to train, those who wish to stay in India could avail the course at a lower price than those who choose to work abroad.
Training can be provided in India by experts from these industries in various sub-categories in a phased manner. For example, those related to the construction of the plant and infrastructure may be the first to receive training, followed by those who will need knowledge of various equipment and to set up the automated production line.
In a few years, training may be more focused on operational aspects; for example, process development and matching, integration, performance, etc. It is highly likely that many NRIs (non-resident Indians) in the industry will want to return to India to train people, test the waters and, if they see a “fabulous future” for India, decide to stay back and work in upcoming fabs in India.
Research and Development (R&D) facilities of various Indian institutes such as Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) can be utilized and if required selected trainees can be taken to the abroad for short periods. .
In fact, since industry fabs are mostly fully automated, the chances of getting your hands dirty directly on equipment are higher in college fabs than in industry. Additionally, many industrial plants are now using virtual reality and augmented reality to be able to see and feel the operations from anywhere in the world.
For the moment, it is only a matter of reflection. If the Indian government wants to think in this direction, it will have to quickly analyze all aspects and refine the plan. Given that Prime Minister Modi has already said that India wants to be a “chip maker and not just a chip taker”, there is no doubt that India will need a good pool of talented engineers. to build and operate fabs in the near future.
It is also a reality that many or at least some of the students who will be trained in India will have ambitions to work abroad; instead of lamenting ‘brain drain’, why not use the situation in a way that can be a win-win for the global semiconductor industry as well as India?
Like “Make in India for the World” for semiconductor manufacturing (and, perhaps, other such strategic areas), we can envision “Train in India for the World”.
(Contributed by Arun Mampazhy)