Growing The Semiconductor Workforce

An influx of new ideas and new participants is vital to the rapid pace of semiconductor innovation.


The engine of industry is people. Nowhere is this more true than in the semiconductor industry. Think about it. This business does not depend on harvesting natural resources. It does not require that facilities be located near transportation hubs such as shipping ports. In our industry, the key to success is literally human resources.

The rapid pace of innovation that characterizes the semiconductor industry is fueled by the influx of new ideas and new participants. But this business and the overall technology economy is facing a skills deficit that requires us to promote the industry to potential new hires.

According to SEMI, there are more than 10,000 job openings in the worldwide semiconductor industry, but the current talent pool is so thin that qualified people cannot be hired fast enough. Compounding the problem is the evolution of “new technology” high-tech segments. Companies such as Apple and Google, who have been market-stimulating consumers of the most advanced ICs, are shifting their business strategies to become more vertically integrated. Not only does this mean that they are morphing from merchant IC customers into captive semiconductor developers and producers, but they also have become rivals of traditional device manufacturers for design, engineering and manufacturing talent. The competition for technically skilled personnel is increasing while the available supply dwindles.

A survey of industry executives showed that 77 percent believe there is currently a critical talent shortage. To solve this broadly recognized challenge, we must work together to encourage the next generation of semiconductor professionals.

One approach has been for companies to donate used or previous-generation capital equipment to academic institutions, thereby providing college students with tools to expand their hands-on knowledge of microelectronics. But is this approach of providing low-demand systems for use by 20-something-year-olds the most effective way to stimulate a new wave of awareness and interest in careers in the semiconductor industry? Aren’t engineering majors’ career plans pretty well firmed up by the time they complete their undergraduate classes and begin applied lab work?

Earlier educational outreach is key. To this end, SEMI has established its High Tech U program to interest high-school students in pursuing college coursework and, eventually, jobs in the semiconductor industry. During the three-day curriculum, students explore various science, technology, engineering and mathematic (STEM) concepts through relatable, hands-on activities and gain exposure to real-world applications. This award-winning program has had a significant impact on the young people who have attended since it was first organized in 2001. The program has been held in nine countries, including 12 states throughout the U.S., and has reached more than 7,500 students and over 1,200 teachers.

This week, Advantest was proud to be a co-sponsor of the first High Tech U program to be held in conjunction with the annual SEMICON West trade show. In addition, there was a smart workforce pavilion in the North Hall with job listings and networking events to help students and recent graduates get their employment footholds in the industry.

But what else can be done to grow more semiconductor talent? One major demographic that is woefully underrepresented in technology jobs is women. Throughout the semiconductor industry and STEM-related employment across the U.S., the presence of women in the workplace is estimated to be less than 20 percent in mid-career jobs and less than 10 percent in top executive positions. This parallels a 2016 study by McKinsey & Company that showed women holding 46 percent of entry-level jobs at U.S. corporations, but tracked a steady decline among the percentage of women in each successive level of management jobs. Researchers found that only 19 percent of the top C-suite jobs in the U.S. are held by women.

The shrinking number of women in technology businesses is reducing women’s level of participation in networks of influence, which tends to perpetuate the problem. As an industry, we must promote mentorship programs and sponsorships that encourage women to bring their talents and innovative ideas to the semiconductor business. Such support activities have been shown to open a range of benefits for everyone involved – including the companies that reach out to lend a hand.

We cannot ignore the trend toward a critical talent crunch, but hopeful signs are out there. For example, student enrollment in STEM-related courses is on the uptick. While this is indeed a positive indicator, as an industry we need to enact aggressive strategies for attracting and retaining a greater diversity of young people in technical and leadership roles. Keeping the talent pipeline full and flowing is essential for continuing the innovative advances that define our industry.

Looking for a job in the chip industry? Check out Semiconductor Engineering’s jobs board


Mohana Devarajan says:

Advantest is doing a great job in simplifying ATE test solutions

Santosh Kurinec, Professor, RIT says:

Rochester Institute of Technology offers BS, and MS programs in Microelectronic Engineering. We have sent thousands of grads to the semiconductor industry, nationwide and worldwide. We need help from industry in helping us with tools and in enrollment by marketing our programs.

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