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The global semiconductor ecosystem is going through a major revamp. Countries like India, the US, the EU, Saudi Arabia, Canada and others are busy strategising over building semiconductor value chains, sourcing silicons and setting up R&D centres. While India, the US and EU have deemed chip manufacturing a strategic priority, countries like Saudi Arabia and Canada are prioritising R&D in sensors, photonics, and other chip technologies.
Despite the different strategies countries employ in the semiconductor industry, one common factor between them is talent production. But India has a solution. As with the software boom, we can expect a global transfer of semiconductor talent from India to meet the rising demand.
The Boon and Bane of Software Wave
The software boom saw a significant movement of talented individuals from India to the Silicon Valley and other parts of the world, leading to a scenario where nobody was willing to go for semiconductors. Even with companies like Samsung, TSMC, and Intel announcing the reshoring of chip manufacturing in the US, the lack of talent is only slowing it down. And just like software, the world now again looks to India to meet its semiconductor talent shortage. However, it won’t be easy with semiconductors.
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Naveed Sherwani, president & CEO at RapidSilicon, discussed that individuals are choosing software over semiconductors for two prominent reasons. First, the software industry offers the flexibility to choose between a variety of jobs as compared to hardware which is very specialised; and second, software pays higher compensation with much greater potential for career advancement than its counterpart.
Furthermore, Sherwani told AIM, “the perception of the semiconductor industry is such that it is not as well-known or glamorous as some other industries, making it more difficult to attract top talent. Additionally, there may be misconceptions about the industry, such as the perception that it is stagnant or lacks innovation.”
Harnessing Hardware Talents
Thus, incentivising individuals and training talent from Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities can nurture semiconductor talent in India. There is therefore a resounding call to leverage the country’s young demographics and “train Indians for India and the world”.
On the R&D front for designing chips, companies worldwide are already utilising Indian talent. However, beyond R&D, there is a huge hierarchy of talent – “electricians, pipefitters and welders, technical engineers, maintenance personnel, smart factory automation specialists, and graduate electrical engineers to design chips and the tools and manufacturing processes that make the chips”.
India has failed to attract talent in the lower-end of the hierarchy. There needs to be work done here especially considering the demand for the semiconductor workforce, which is estimated to cross three million skilled workers by 2030.
Where is India at?
Such a mixed variety of workforce is difficult to harbour, and generally requires a lot of money and effort. And, as Ceremorphic CEO Venkat Mattela also conceded, India is yet to reach there. According to Mattela, while a lot of companies come to India to fulfil their high-end chip design needs, only a rare few have seen India as a fertile ground for semiconductor manufacturing. This is mainly because of the dearth of talent, especially in areas that require technical knowledge.
“In both urban and semi-urban areas of India, there is a widespread desire to attend the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), resulting in surplus engineering talent. However, the situation is different for low-end talent positions, largely due to the absence of supportive infrastructure that could encourage this type of skill development,” Mattela told AIM.
Anurag Awasthi, vice president at IESA, explains that despite producing 1.5 million engineers every year, India sees very few opt for fields like microelectronics, electrical, chemical, and material engineering, and two main arguments can be made for the same: “lack of awareness and availability of job options as compared to computer science and allied disciplines”.
The issue of talent is not unrecognised. Lately, there have also been announced several programmes and investments to produce semiconductor talent. Recently, the Indian Institute of Science (IISc)-TalentSprint partnership announced a PG-level advanced certification programme in micro and nanoelectronics used for neuromorphic and quantum technologies. The partnership will provide industry-oriented training to empower next-generation semiconductor professionals.
Similarly, SEMI University released a new online learning platform consisting of a variety of courses for the recently hired facility operators to experienced technicians, engineers and non-technical staff. Additionally, reports also emerged that Taiwan may help India train talent for electronics and semiconductors.
Likewise, US partnered with IESA (India Electronics Semiconductor Association), to establish a taskforce that can identify and facilitate workforce development.
What AI and automation can do
However, AI and automation have increasingly turned out to be a sign of relief for this burgeoning talent problem. As per Deloitte’s 2023 semiconductor industry outlook, AI tools for chip design are allowing companies to produce better chips faster and use fewer people, enabling scarce talent to focus on more pressing issues. Moreover, the rising cost to source, hire, onboard and retain semiconductor talent makes automation an appealing mechanism so that semiconductor companies can only focus on meeting the urgent need for qualified STEM professionals.
Additionally, we have already seen how ChatGPT-like AI chatbots have the potential to take up tasks like VLSI design in the near future. Like in design, AI can automate several workflows in other areas of semiconductors as well. Digital Twin technology, for instance, can help in training professionals in simulated environments so that the time to get the production running at any new plant reduces drastically.
Regardless, Awasthi notes, “Emphasis on AI and automation may be an important waypoint but skilling is the core of Atmanirbhar Bharat”.