The rising economic and hence strategic importance of semiconductors to nations looking to establish global supremacy has resulted in what’s now popularly referred to as the Chip War (thanks to the brilliant book with the same title by Chris Miller). The Chip War is manifesting in many ways, most prominently in the form of sanctions (such as the Dutch lithography company ASML, the most crucial link in semiconductor manufacturing barred by the west from supplying the latest technology to Chinese semiconductor companies) or blocking access to markets (China retorting by blocking American companies such as Micron from accessing the large Chinese market). Or even the perennial geopolitical tension in the Taiwan strait. This has resulted in rearrangement of supply chains, especially the US announcing massive subsidies to incentivise setting up semiconductor foundries back on American soil, under the CHIPS Act. Whilst plenty of investments have been announced, a crucial piece of the supply chain – human capital to man and run these foundries is not talked about in the same vein. Here’s a piece in the electrical engineer’s journal about how the US is investing in universities and community colleges to train tens of thousands of engineers on semiconductor manufacturing technology.

“The CHIPS and Science Act, aimed at kick-starting chip manufacturing in the United States, only began taking requests for pieces of its US $50 billion in March, but chipmakers were already gearing up beforehand. Memory and storage chipmaker Micron announced as much as $100 billion for a new plant in upstate New York. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), which was already building a $12 billion fab in Arizona, upped the investment to $40 billion with a second plant. Samsung is planning a $17 billion fab near Austin, Texas, and in September Intel broke ground on the first of two massive new facilities worth $20 billion in central Ohio.
….The United States today manufactures just 12 percent of the world’s chips, down from 37 percent in 1990, according to a September 2020 report by the Semiconductor Industry Association. Over those decades, experts say, semiconductor and hardware education has stagnated.

….There were around 20,000 job openings in the semiconductor industry at the end of 2022, according to Peter Bermel, an electrical and computer engineering professor at Purdue University. “Even if there’s limited growth in this field, you’d need a minimum of 50,000 more hires in the next five years. We need to ramp up our efforts really quickly.””

Intel is focusing on developing talent in Ohio:
“…the company has pledged $50 million to 80 higher-education institutions in the state. The funds should help the universities and community colleges upgrade their curricula, train and hire faculty, and provide equipment, and Intel also plans to provide internships, guidance, and research opportunities.

…While most of the semiconductor-related curriculum has been designed for students in electrical and computer engineering, OSU now wants to bring in students from other disciplines. The university is creating tracks for them to master semiconductor-related skills, and it’s revamping the curriculum in those disciplines to reflect the latest industry technology. Materials engineers will have new courses on chip packaging materials, industrial system engineers will learn semiconductor manufacturing processes, and mechanical engineers will get to know device fabrication tools, says Ayanna Howard, dean of OSU’s college of engineering.”

Like Intel in Ohio, TSMC is engaged with Arizona State University, Skywater is helping Purdue with a new Semiconductors degree, Samsung in Austion, etc.
The article goes on to highlight that the talent shortage is not restricted to the US. Even Taiwan and Korea with dominant shares in semiconductor making today also face severe shortages making it a great time for semiconductor engineers. Sigh ! Some of us will draw comfort from investing being the most gratifying profession out there.

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