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The shortage of semiconductor talent, globally as well as domestically, is expected to get worse by the end of the decade. to plug this expanding gap in skilled manpower, India is racing to reskill and re-deploy its massive engineering talent pool

During a recent interaction with students of an engineering institute, Navin Bishnoi, Country Head of fabless chip design firm Marvell India, was surprised at how keen the students were to know more about new-age subjects like AI and ML. But barely anyone was interested in the chips, or semiconductors that power them. Only when Bishnoi started going deep into AI applications and its underlying infrastructure that students start to realise the importance of semiconductors. “I realised that the exposure to semiconductors is lesser than other technologies. Engineering students are choosing the easier path to employability compared to semiconductor-hardware engineering, which requires a master’s degree and years of experience.”

The chips Bishnoi discussed are high-end ones. But as semiconductors are used in almost everything electronic around us, their demand has gone through the roof in the past few years. The global chips market, pegged at $600 billion in 2021, is also expected to grow to $1 trillion by 2030, per McKinsey. But experts say that current manufacturing capacity is just not sufficient to meet this booming demand.

Consequently, as new fabs—where chips are printed, and then taken through the ATMP (assembly, testing, marking, and packaging) process—are set up around the world and in India, even the demand for professionals qualified in electronics engineering and related fields is going to surge exponentially. And while the job profiles may sound too technical, most of the learning and upskilling in this industry happens while on the job.

Engineering students are choosing the easier path to employability compared to semiconductorhardware engineering, which requires a master’s degree and years of experience

NAVIN BISHNOI
Country Head
Marvell India

TALENT CRUNCH

Currently, nearly 277,000 people across the US work in the chip-making industry—in R&D, design, manufacturing, testing, etc. The country’s Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) expects the new fabs that are coming up there to create 42,000 new permanent jobs by 2027, with an average of 185,000 temporary jobs (related to building fabs) being created annually from 2021 to 2026. And this is just the case in the US. Be it the EU, Japan, China, South Korea, or Taiwan, every government is aiming to bring chip production onshore. India, too, has embarked on a journey to develop its own silicon ecosystem. The country—never one of the chip-making nations—is now witnessing interest from large business houses, such as Vedanta and Tata. That gives credence to the burgeoning requirement and opportunity for engineering talent in the country.

More so because semiconductor talent is in short supply. With more fabs coming up, the situation is expected to get worse by the end of 2023, and the rest of the decade. 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 exponential demand for talent that India can cater to with its crop of engineering students that join the workforce every year. After all, close to 2.5 million students enrol for undergraduate engineering degrees in India annually, with close to 600,000 students opting for the electronics stream, per Statista.

“There will be a strong demand on 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. Already, semiconductor job openings in India have increased by 7 per cent between March 2019 and 2023, data from jobs portal Indeed shows.

JOB PROSPECTS

The chip-making industry is a resource-intensive one that requires highly-skilled workers at every step of the process, right from chip design and manufacturing to testing and packaging. And even though India doesn’t have foundries or ATMP facilities yet, one area where the country is contributing actively is chip design. That means working in a fabless firm. The likely jobs are:

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.

AKARSH HEBBAR
Global MD
Vedanta’s Semiconductor and Display Business

In ATMP plants, Integrated Circuit (IC) packaging/testing engineers, with a background in electrical or electronics engineering or material science, is the core requirement. These engineers are required to understand process technologies to 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 test), 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- 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/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 focussing on the variation of quality, and control/manage 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 30-80 lakh per annum.

There will be strong demand on recruiting processing engineers, equipment engineers, IC testing engineers and capacity planning managers

HELEN CHIANG
Head, Asia/Pacific Semiconductor Research; General
Manager, IDC Taiwan

NEED FOR SKILLS

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 the related fields. For instance, IIT Kanpur offers a course on IC fabrication, and various courses related to electronics device physics & modelling, and circuits. “Additionally, the Material Science and Engineering (MSE) and Chemical Engineering departments offer courses related to semiconductor fabrication. The MSE department has a course on packaging as well,” says S. Sundar Kumar Iyer, Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at IIT Kanpur. Separately, IIT Madras has launched a four-year online Bachelor of Science in Electronic Systems programme.

As India focusses 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. The industry needs to pitch in, to curate the syllabi, and for the development of the faculty via its intrinsic expertise. This is a work in progress for the government, industry and the academia alike,” says Anurag Awasthi, VP at India Electronics and Semiconductor Association (IESA).

Although academic institutions are coming up with courses focussed on the sector, a primary challenge for them will be in providing hands-on and industry-relevant training in live environments. “The most important aspect of these diploma courses for manufacturing technicians is to get practical training, which should be a part of the course work itself,” says VLSI Society’s Gupta. The solution, he suggests, is that government and academic institutes should work with the industry to provide 8-12 weeks of internship at a running facility. “We can utilise the facilities at SCL (Semiconductor Lab) in Mohali or create tie-ups with fabs in Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia for real hands-on training,” he adds.

Even Hitesh Garg, India Country Manager at chip manufacturer NXP Semiconductors, says, “To boost employment, it is essential that engineering institutes focus on facilitating programmes that concentrate primarily on semiconductor equipment operation and manufacturing. These programmes can offer practical experience and hands-on training that will help them to explore jobs in various fields like process engineers, foundry engineers, etc.”

Acknowledging the need for skilled labour, many global institutes and organisations such as SEMI, Micron, Purdue, etc., are starting to offer courses and collaborations in this field. Not ony that, institutes in India, such as IIT Mumbai, IIT Roorkee, IIT Madras, Sastra Deemed University, etc., are also partnering with global institutes, fabs and equipment companies to produce the right talent at various levels.

LEARNING ON THE JOB

“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 Mamphazy.

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.

Indian conglomerate Vedanta, which is in the process of setting up a chips fab (in partnership with Taiwan’s Foxconn) and a display fab in the country, has also chalked out a plan to hire experienced personnel for its fab. As Vedanta will be setting up a greenfield project, the company plans to bring the world’s best talent initially, and then look to develop talent in India. “To start with, we want to bring those talented people in who have experience in wafer fabs, OSAT, and panel, to form the team. The second part will be to mirror the folks with the hunger, drive, curiosity and problem-solving ability from India, to those with the expertise,” says David Reed, CEO of Vedanta-Foxconn Semiconductors. (See interview for more.)

DAVID REED
CEO
Vedanta-Foxconn Semiconductors


BEYOND ENGINEERING

While most roles in the chip industry need an engineering background, there are jobs around maintenance, machinery, supply chain, IT and accounting that need professionals and diploma holders from other streams. Alug of NLB Services, who works with several semiconductor firms globally, says job roles such as operators, technicians, QC (quality check) and supply chain managers, etc., are some of the non-engineering profiles available at a foundry firm.

Also globally, the setting up of a chip manufacturing ecosystem creates an employment opportunity in the ratio of 1:6 for direct and indirect roles. This means, for each fab-related job, six more roles are created in related fields of IT/ ITeS, hardware, software and supply chain, among others.

Consequently, 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. Going back to Deloitte’s finding of over a million additional skilled workers required by 2030, and the talent crunch only expected to widen further, India—which produces a large number of engineers every year—can substantially leverage its talent advantage. And just like it became the IT hub for the world, the country can aim to become the primary supplier of semiconductor talent, and potentially chips too in some time, to the world.

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