Does Your Brand Sing? Future Talent is Listening
Semiconductors are in vogue. Take a look at any mainstream media and there is some commentary or narrative on chips, supply chains, shortages, and even the technologies themselves. For instance, I met using 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 in to the technologies and the manufacturing process.
However, all this new fame for the industry is no good unless generation x of talent is encouraged to make a career in the sector. We are able to have all the Chips Acts we want, however the action is no good if you don't have designers, process engineers, fab technicians, yet others in the value chain to fulfill the objectives of those acts.
A report just authored by Accenture delves into the challenges faced by the semiconductor industry in addressing the talent gap which is becoming more and more of the challenge for that traditional chip industry. That's because those who do study engineering or science subjects are attracted to the glamor of the hyperscalers, automotive companies, consumer brands, and professional services businesses that offer competitive packages, brand perks, and promises.
According to the Accenture report, \”The competitive etch: Addressing the talent gap,\” a 2022 survey of engineering students indicated that most undergraduates would rather 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 great examples-and automotive leaders like Tesla, Vehicle, and Ford. It adds that 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 the talent gap is a huge obstacle to meeting the self-sufficiency and resilience targets that several nations are targeting in semiconductor supply chains. The report states that for the U.S. alone, to become self-sufficient within the semiconductor sector, the country will have to capture one more 20% of worldwide chip production, translating into 74 to 80 net new fabs and 300,000 total semiconductor fab positions created.
In addition, when 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 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 can you grow the pipeline of talent? According to the report, very few semiconductor companies have early-education STEM initiatives. This really is as opposed to the likes of Meta, Google, and Amazon whose initiatives target students as early as junior high 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 within the U.S. in internet-of-things -themed summer projects across its 16 innovation campuses.
Another approach is 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 build up hands-on experience within microelectronics and semiconductors.
The report indicates that other semiconductor players are unsuccessful 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 information technology, meaning many students are unfamiliar with the core subject knowledge or exposure needed to wish to work in the semiconductor sector.
Another aspect of the industry highlighted within the report is that recruiting profiles are not perfectly defined, and that chip companies are the best off taking a look at alternative and various skillsets beyond just \”electronics.\”
Design engineering roles will probably have very specialized degree requirements, but fab technicians would often arrive from the different route.
GlobalFoundries trains new community college/traditional four-year college graduates to fill open technician and process engineering roles and upskill these to fill demand, the report notes. It suggests that this tactic is both cost-effective and feasible in the near term.
Somewhat counter towards the geopolitical aims of the various Chips Acts, the report asserts the industry needs to be in a position to retain international graduates.
Every stage from the semiconductor value chain is incredibly dependent upon international STEM talent. In particular, North American universities have been a magnet for that world's brightest STEM talent and also the primary channel through which foreign-born semiconductor talent originates towards the U.S. International students account for two-thirds of graduate students in electrical engineering and information technology, and they've been the primary supply of growth of semiconductor talent over the last 30 years, the report states.
However, once these highly skilled individuals receive their diplomas, the current immigration law landscape causes it to be difficult to remain in the U.S.
The key takeaways on my read from the report are that the semiconductor industry needs to do more to draw in students much earlier, especially at the senior high school level, much like what hyperscalers along with other \”big tech\” information mill doing. The allure of the more glamorous brand-name tech companies is something the semiconductor sector must counter-whether they are similar incentives or any other brand perks. The recruiting profiles need to be better defined to ensure the right skillsets and abilities are targeted for all of the different roles in the diverse logistics.