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Global chip shortage: Engineer shortfall is the next big problem

Global chip shortage: Engineer shortfall is the next big problem

Categories: Technology
Posted: January 03, 2022

There are no signs of the global chip shortage easing any time soon, and one of the reasons behind it appears to be getting worse, not better.

Industry experts say that a shortage of qualified staff is a growing problem, especially the highly qualified engineers needed to design new chips and solve manufacturing problems for ever more complex ones …

Multiple sources cited by the WSJ point to a growing gap between supply and demand.

The world’s largest chip makers are fighting for workers to staff the billion-dollar-plus facilities that they are building around the world to address a shortage of semiconductors […]

New chip-making facilities, known as fabrication plants, or “fabs,” require thousands of college-educated engineers to operate. Technicians oversee and manage the manufacturing process, while researchers help innovate new types of chips and ways of making them.

In Taiwan, where Apple A-series and M-series chipmaker TSMC is based, the problem is worsening at an alarming rate.

In Taiwan, a global powerhouse in chip making, the recruitment gap is at its highest level in more than six years, according to 104 Job Bank. An August report from the recruiting platform estimated that the average monthly shortfall in semiconductor workers was about 27,700 employees, up 44% from the previous year. Monthly average salaries in chip manufacturing rose to the highest level in over a decade, the report said.

“The talent shortage problem has become even more severe, mainly because of the increase in demand,” said Yao-Wen Chang, dean of National Taiwan University’s College of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, one of Taiwan’s top engineering programs. “I’m not optimistic that we can totally resolve this problem.”

While Apple does its chip design in-house, TSMC still needs the engineers to run the plants. One expert says that the level of expertise needed is rising all the time.

In Taiwan, a lack of highly skilled engineers could derail efforts to stay at the forefront of advanced technology as semiconductors become more complex. “We need more doctorate degrees who also participate in the next generation for the semiconductor industry,” said Terry Tsao, global chief marketing officer of the industry association SEMI and president of its Taiwan branch.

There’s a particular challenge in attracting software engineers to chipmaking, as the role is very much a behind-the-scenes one, with no ability to point to a finished product in the way a consumer app developer can.

Santosh Kurinec, a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, said the number of students enrolled in the school’s undergraduate electrical-engineering program has dwindled steadily, from about 50 in the mid-1980s to about 10 now. “Some want to go make an app for Google and Facebook and others,” she said.

The US is particularly disadvantaged due to strict limits on the number of overseas engineers who can qualify for the visas needed to work in the country.

Apple says that supply constraints caused by the global chip shortage cost the company $6B in the company’s fiscal Q4.

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