Sunday, July 14, 2024

Here's how India can fill the semiconductor talent gap for the world – Business Today


The United States of America, the hub for semiconductor companies, is expected to face a significant talent crunch in the coming years. A study released by the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), in partnership with Oxford Economics, has projected a shortfall of 67,000 workers—technicians, computer scientists, and engineers—by 2030 and a gap of 1.4 million such workers in the broader US economy. The demand for semiconductors is projected to increase significantly by 2030, and semiconductor companies are ramping up production to keep pace. India, with its engineering talent, if trained properly, can fill this void. Here’s how: 
Burgeoning Demand 
Semiconductor talent is already in short supply. And with more fabrication plants, or fabs, coming up, the situation is expected to get worse by the end of 2023. Deloitte estimates that the global semiconductor workforce—pegged at more than 2 million direct employees in 2021—will need to grow by more than 1 million by 2030, adding more than 100,000 workers annually. It is this demand for talent that India can cater to with its engineering students. After all, close to 2.5 million students enrol for undergraduate engineering degrees in India annually, with close to 600,000 opting for the electronics stream, per Statista. 
“There will be a strong demand for recruiting processing, equipment, and IC testing engineers and capacity planning managers,” says Helen Chiang, Head of Asia/Pacific Semiconductor Research and General Manager of IDC Taiwan. She adds that people with knowledge of or who major in electronics, mechanical, chemical, and materials engineering will be the most sought after. Job openings in the Indian semiconductor industry have increased by 7 per cent between March 2019 and 2023, data from job portal Indeed shows. 
Opportunities Galore 
The chip-making industry is a huge, resource-intensive one that requires highly skilled workers at every step of the process, right from chip design and manufacturing to testing and packaging. While there are numerous areas where talent is required, the most popular ones and the kind of talent required are highlighted below. 
Fabless: According to industry experts, India currently has around 125,000 engineers—with a bachelor’s, master’s or PhD degree—working in various aspects of chip design and development. Typically, a BTech in Electronics and Communication Engineering (ECE) or Electronics, MTech in VLSI Design, or PhD in Semiconductor Technology, Material Science, or Chemical Engineering, is required to work in firms engaged in VLSI (very large-scale integration) design. Salaries of BTech engineers working in this segment range from Rs 3-18 lakh per annum. However, large multinational (MNC) chip companies, such as, Intel, Texas Instruments, NXP, etc., pay higher salaries. 
ATMP: Once a chip is printed, it has to be tested and packaged before it can be shipped to manufacturers. And given the low investments required in building ATMP facilities, India is expected to see a boom in their construction, both from local and MNC players. 
In ATMP plants, Integrated Circuit (IC) packaging/testing engineers, with a background in electrical or electronics engineering or material science are the core requirements. These engineers are required to understand process technologies, test and verify processes to improve yield, evaluate and verify wafer packaging materials, and do quality control of materials and components if new products are introduced.  
In India, semiconductor ATMP is expected to have a much larger base than chip manufacturing. “Employers hiring for these roles look for candidates skilled in OSAT (outsourced semiconductor assembly and testing), photolithography, VLSI packaging, design, and testing, along with majors in electrical and electronics engineering or material science,” says Sekhar Garisa, CEO of Foundit, a job-hunting platform. However, in terms of remuneration, ATMP outfits in India pay between Rs 7 and 14 lakh per annum, whereas global firms pay between RS 20-55 lakh per annum. 
Foundry: The chip industry is projected to invest more than $500 billion globally to set up 84 chip-making facilities between 2021 and 2023, per the World Fab Forecast report by global industry association SEMI. These foundries would require process engineers to conduct and manage the whole process of manufacturing wafers/chips, improve process flow, evaluate and manage risks and issues, conduct detection and monitoring analysis, and implement new processes. “They need to be able to construct analysis mechanisms, provide analysis data, and help integrate related requirements and material selection,” says IDC’s Chiang. “Overall, they spend most of their time focusing on the variation of quality, and controlling or managing the balance between quality, output, and costs.” 
The foundry ecosystem offers a multidisciplinary set of jobs to everyone, from diploma holders to engineering graduates and students with science-related qualifications. “Responsibilities of a manufacturing technician can be handled by diploma holders who have proper training of about six months in fab operations. The process, quality assurance, and equipment engineers require an engineering degree with a specialisation,” says Satya Gupta, President of VLSI Society of India. 
Sachin Alug, CEO of digital talent solutions firm NLB Services, says that VLSI companies may offer anything between RS 10-20 lakh per annum to entry-level professionals, while aggregate salaries offered by MNCs to freshers is between Rs 30 and 80 lakh per annum. 
Skilling for chip jobs 
With over 2 million engineering students graduating every year in the country, and only close to 300,000 high-paying jobs available, semiconductors is one buzzing industry, where even the government and universities are seeing significant potential. As the government drives India Inc. to step up investments in the sector, several premier engineering institutes have introduced courses in related fields. For instance, IIT Kanpur offers a course on IC fabrication and various courses related to electronics device physics, modelling, and circuits. 
Also, as India focuses on becoming a chip-making nation, the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) has also designed a curriculum for BTech in Electronics (VLSI Design and Technology) and Diploma in IC manufacturing. The BTech course covers a range of topics, from IC design and technology and semiconductor device fundamentals to VLSI and analog IC design and physics of electrical engineering materials, among others. 
Alternatively, the diploma course covers an introduction to VLSI Fabrication, semiconductor-fab familiarisation, electronics devices and circuits, clean room technologies, semiconductor technology equipment maintenance, along with allied activities in a foundry, such as safety protocols, vacuum technology, etc. Within industrial automation, the course covers chip packaging and testing, electronics system assembly or product design and renewable energy technologies. 
Despite the availability of these courses in the country, a common refrain among industry leaders is that the faculty who would teach these subjects, themselves lack significant industrial fab experience. The challenge now is to spread awareness and develop the faculty in this domain. 
Learning on the job 
Also, given the variety of job roles, there is no single course. “Just like in any other field, the B Tech and master’s-level courses offer a base, but much of the fab jobs also need on-the-job-training,” says independent semiconductor analyst Arun Mampazhy. 
While a PhD or master’s is required for some high-end jobs, chip engineers mostly join fabs post-completion of their courses, and then up-skill on the job. Also, as the demand for highly skilled talent regularly outstrips its supply, the semiconductor industry invests significantly to maintain and advance its workforce’s skills. 
For example, a major US semiconductor firm runs a robust $1.4-million annual educational assistance programme through which hundreds of employees are supported each year to pursue master’s, bachelor’s, associate-, and certificate-level programmes in their job-related fields. Similarly, another firm supports its employees’ up-skilling needs with a $30,000 annual tuition reimbursement programme. Beyond tuition assistance, one US firm hires over 170 student interns each year, while another firm spends over $1.5 million annually to support approximately 70 interns across its operations in the US. 
As a large number of job opportunities related to design, manufacturing, training and skilling, supply chain management, chemicals and materials engineering, packaging, testing, and logistics are expected to crop up in the next two to five years, if India manages to train its talent right, can be a leader in supply semiconductor talent to the world. 
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