The cultivation of Chip Talent is critical to economic growth and national security. Even before the Covid-19 induced global chip shortage, firms were anxious about chip talent scarcities. To influence the future and nurture the development of chip talent, The Chief Technology Officer of TSMC, Jack Sun, is now Dean of one of the newest Semiconductor Graduate Schools. To strengthen industry-academic ties, Burn Lin, another industry leader is Dean of another Chip School. Sun and Lin, two industry titans have become academics.
With a global record of expertise and leadership in the semiconductor industry, they have become Professors in the Practice of Semiconductor Research. They aim to train the next generation of semiconductor engineers, and maintain Taiwan’s position as a critical node in the chip supply chain system. The singular focus of new Chip Schools will attract bright students from other fields, and may stimulate some imbalance in the tertiary ecosystem, as students at these Chip Schools will receive bursaries.
The integrated circuit industry is in high-growth mode. Thriving demand across the advanced manufacturing ecosystem – including trailblazing core manufacturers, disruptors in additive manufacturing, advanced robotics, and new materials – has put a spotlight on the global shortage of Chip Talent. To be able to develop their own integrated circuits, and overcome a series of complex challenges, countries are addressing the demand for specialist talent. Many countries however remain highly reliant on a few external providers.
China’s import of integrated circuits in 2020 reached $350 billion. This was the largest imported trade product in China used exclusively for the manufacture of high-end chips. In China alone, the Chip Talent gap is about 600,000 specialists, when all affected areas are considered collectively. The Chip Talent shortage will affect the continuous advancement of chip research, and the balanced development of the semiconductor industry.
Chip Talent involves electronic information engineering, automation, microelectronics and other interdisciplinary sciences. Universities in many countries may teach manufacturing engineering, but there is an unevenness between the types of majors and levels of these programmes. Some miss the semiconductor industry completely. A School of Integrated Circuits was established in China in 2021. It is the first school to offer a specialized major in the subject. The aim is the training of technicians in semiconductors.
At the recent opening of the National Tsing Hua University College of Semiconductor Research, Tsai Ing-wen noted that in the race to develop Chip Talent, the race is against time. At the unveiling of another Chip School, Tsai said that she requested that these graduate schools remain open year-round. That is, research and fostering and nurturing the development of Chip Talent will remain a stranger to a curriculum written with winter and summer breaks.
Chip giant TSMC will spend US$ 44 billion to make the “brains” that will power everything from submarines to satellites. TSMC plans to hire over 8,000 workers in capacity expansion initiatives in 2022. It is a race against time for creatives enrolled at these new schools. To design the research programmes and teaching at these schools, that will tower over the future of the planet, the government of Taiwan has partnered with leading chip manufacturers to fund not just the building of these graduate schools at top-ranking universities, but the curriculum architectonics as well.
The new Chip Schools are free to attract venture capitalists and angel financiers willing to invest in intangible assets and projects. Faculty will have higher salaries. And the schools are free to invite executives from the industry to give tutorials, teach courses, and advise on research projects. Like everything else, it is nothing from out of the blue, and only obvious in hindsight to those who never saw it coming nor did anything like it before. It influences next.
The state is no longer sitting back and allowing universities to lapse into irrelevance. Taiwan has established content, targets, and outputs for Masters Degrees and research programs that lead to doctoral awards. Private sector companies are investing in graduate school programs aimed at the semiconductor industry. While the pandemic has taken a heavy toll on workers in many sectors, those with international talent have adapted to the new situation.
In Europe, despite the progress made towards a joint framework for legal migration, EU member states have been less successful than OECD countries in attracting skilled migrants. The OECD’s Indicators of Talent Attractiveness highlight several policy areas that influence a talent’s decision to move, including tax rates, gender parity, integration, and citizenship. Progress has been hampered by the entanglements among EU rules and those at the Member State Level. In June 2020, under the weight of COVID-19 pressure, the EU released its Skills Agenda for Sustainable Competitiveness, Social Fairness and Resilience.
At the heart of the Agenda, is a mechanism oriented towards keeping and attracting talent, and improving legal pathways to match skills needs, with competences of migrants. Likewise, the European Commission’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum (September 2020), aims at giving a “fresh start” to the management of legal migration. The hope is that enhanced bilateral cooperation on talent circulation can act as a skills catalyst for semiconductor and chip talent.