“Countercurrent” surge of semiconductor talents

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Talent is an eternal topic in the semiconductor industry.
Recently, there has been endless debate about the hollowing out of semiconductor talents in Taiwan, China, because TSMC has made rapid progress in the construction of its new wafer factory in Arizona, the United States. However, due to the lack of engineers with high level and rich experience in the United States, the company is shipping hundreds of excellent wafer factory engineers and technical workers in the island to the United States, which has caused concern among some semiconductor practitioners in Taiwan, China, China, They believe that TSMC’s operation will damage the talent base of the semiconductor industry in Taiwan, China, and if this continues, it will affect the overall development of Taiwan’s semiconductor industry.
Due to the relative shortage of semiconductor talents in various regions of the world, once there is a large-scale flow, it will receive widespread attention. In addition, the enterprises involved are the industry star TSMC, which will naturally become a hot spot in the industry.
Compared to earlier years, there have been some changes in the global flow of semiconductor talents in the past two years. This wave of operations at TSMC is a typical example, showing a completely opposite trend from the past.
Semiconductor Talents Flow to Chinese Mainland
Since 2014, with the support of government preferential policies and funds, the development of semiconductor industry in Chinese Mainland has accelerated. However, in this highly capital and technology intensive industry, the lack of local talents has restricted the industrial development. Therefore, local enterprises have sufficient funds to search for talents globally, whether in the design or manufacturing sectors, regardless of who comes. Most of these foreign talents come from the United States and Taiwan, China, China.
After seeing the promising development prospects of the semiconductor industry in Chinese Mainland, from 2014 to 2018, many engineers and middle and senior managers working in U.S. semiconductor enterprises chose to return to China for employment or entrepreneurship. It was also during that time that the number of IC design enterprises in Chinese Mainland increased significantly, especially in 2016, with a year-on-year growth of more than 100%, shocking the industry.
At the same time, seeking semiconductor talents from Taiwan, China has become an important means for mainland enterprises to exchange capital for technology and time. Although Chinese Mainland also targets Korean and Japanese engineers, due to the common language and culture, mainland enterprises prefer engineers from Taiwan, China.
According to the estimation of H&L Management Consultants, a recruitment company in Taipei, since the Chinese Mainland government set up a “big fund” for semiconductors in 2014, by 2018, about 1300 engineers from Taiwan, China have moved to mainland enterprises. In particular, wafer factory engineers are particularly popular, and the high salaries, allowances, and higher level positions offered by mainland wafer manufacturers are extremely attractive. Wages have risen sharply, there are eight free home opportunities a year, and a highly subsidized apartment is an irresistible job for a Taiwanese engineer. Some people say that the money earned by working in Chinese Mainland for three years is equivalent to that earned by working in Taiwan, China for 10 years, and they can also retire early.
In 2018, regarding the situation of brain drain to Chinese Mainland, Steve Wang, vice chairman and president of Taiwan, China based IC design company Lianyong Technology, said that in the past two years, a small number of employees of the company have moved to mainland enterprises, and he admitted that the treatment provided by Taiwan based companies in China is difficult to compete with mainland competitors.
Even so, the supply of semiconductor talents still exceeds demand. According to statistics, by the end of 2017, there were about 400000 professionals working in the semiconductor industry in Chinese Mainland, far less than the estimated 720000 employees needed in 2020. In just a few years, this gap is difficult to fill.
“Counter current” appearance
Since 2020, the situation of semiconductor talents exporting from the United States and Taiwan, China to Chinese Mainland has changed quietly, which has a lot to do with the United States’ semiconductor trade restrictions on Chinese Mainland and its policy of vigorously investing in local semiconductor manufacturing.
Under such a background, some IC design companies and wafer factories in Chinese Mainland cannot use the relevant tools of American EDA enterprises, or use the advanced manufacturing process of TSMC and other wafer foundries due to the restrictions of American regulations, and the wafer factories cannot purchase the advanced equipment of American semiconductor equipment factories, which makes it difficult for the relevant production lines to run smoothly. All these have caused a lot of anxiety to engineers who originally came from Taiwan, China, China, but now work in related enterprises in Chinese Mainland, and their career prospects have also been cast a shadow. Therefore, engineers and senior managers of enterprises have left the mainland and returned to Taiwan, China, forming a “countercurrent” of semiconductor talents.
At the same time, the US semiconductor restriction policy on Chinese Mainland has been increased layer by layer. Not long ago, it was related to the retention of mid and high-end talents of enterprises. During this period, although some semiconductor talents returned from the United States to work in Chinese Mainland, the situation of one-way flow has changed significantly, and middle and senior managers or technology giants of enterprises began to return to the United States to look for jobs or entrepreneurial opportunities. Not long ago, the IC design company that made a lot of noise in the industry announced its bankruptcy due to a broken capital chain (unable to continue financing in the primary market). An important reason for this problem was that the technical director of one of the two co founders left the company and returned to the United States to start a business.
The restriction policy of the United States and the capital cold winter of Chinese Mainland’s semiconductor industry objectively promoted the formation of this “counter current” of semiconductor talents, especially for IC design enterprises.
Not only Chinese Mainland, but also Taiwan, China semiconductor talents, especially wafer factory engineers and technical workers, began to flow out under the influence of U.S. policies. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, TSMC is transporting hundreds of engineers from the island’s wafer factories to new factories in the United States. This situation is very rare in the history of Taiwan, China semiconductor development, especially in the history of TSMC, Liu Deyin, Chairman of TSMC, said that currently there are only about 500 TSMC engineers and technical workers working in the United States, while there are 50000 people on the island, which accounts for a small proportion. There is no need to worry about the depletion of semiconductor talent in Taiwan. Liu Deyin is right. In the foreseeable future, the semiconductor talents in the island will not be emptied. However, the United States has a clear ambition to develop its domestic semiconductor manufacturing industry by leveraging TSMC’s technology and talent advantages. Moreover, TSMC’s new project plans to build factories in the United States have emerged one by one. At present, talent flow is just the beginning. Unless the U.S. plans to revitalize the local semiconductor manufacturing industry give up halfway, as long as the U.S. persists in doing so, the semiconductor talents from Taiwan, China will continue to be exported to the United States. As the influence of the U.S. semiconductor manufacturing industry increases, the global influence of Taiwan wafer foundry industry in China will certainly weaken.
Global Semiconductor Talent Shortage to Be Solved
Both the flow of semiconductor talents from the United States and Taiwan, China to Chinese Mainland in the past few years and the “countercurrent” phenomenon in the past two years show that the shortage of semiconductor talents is a common phenomenon worldwide. According to SEMI statistics, 75% of semiconductor companies worldwide believe that they lack relevant talent. As of the first half of 2022, major global chip manufacturers have announced expansion plans worth more than 370 billion US dollars, which means that chip companies will conduct more large-scale recruitment worldwide.
In the United States, data from the recruitment search service “Indeed” shows that in July 2022, the number of recruiters in the semiconductor industry in the United States increased significantly by 64% compared to the same period three years ago. According to statistics from Adik, a headhunter owned by the Swiss Decaux Group, the average annual salary of semiconductor technicians in the United States when they change jobs in 2022 increased by 18% compared to the previous year. In order to obtain talents, the United States has increasingly attached importance to industry-university collaboration. For example, Wright State University is launching an “Intel Program”, which is not hesitate to adjust the academic program of the entire university to provide skilled technical workers for Intel. The University of Texas at Austin has proposed to cooperate with companies, national laboratories, and 13 academic institutions across the state in the fields of semiconductor and defense electronics through its Texas Electronics Research Institute to achieve the goal of “bringing chip manufacturing back to the United States.” The funding for this project is provided by the “Chip Act” launched by the United States government.
In South Korea, Samsung Electronics recently paid a special bonus equivalent to five months’ salary.
In Taiwan, China, in order to retain talents, chip manufacturers represented by MediaTek provide interns with paid internship opportunities, and the salary level is basically the same as that of regular employees. According to the statistics of 104 Human Resources Bank, in the first quarter of 2022, the average monthly demand for semiconductor talents in Taiwan was 35000, with an annual growth rate of 40%. The shortage of semiconductor talents is prominent, and the supply of talents is seriously insufficient. In addition to deep cultivation in technical and vocational schools, enterprises have also extended their recruitment tentacles to Southeast Asia, developed female engineers, and even started binding talents from high schools to recruit liberal arts students.
In Chinese Mainland, semiconductor talent shortage is more prominent. Not long ago, a report released at the World Conference on Integrated Circuits held in Hefei showed that by 2024, the total demand for engineers and skilled workers in the semiconductor industry in Chinese Mainland will reach 789000, of which more than 40% will come from the IC design industry, with a number of about 325200. By the end of 2021, the total number of semiconductor employees was 570700. In the next two to three years, it will be very difficult to fill such a large gap.
Shortage of supply has led to a sharp rise in the remuneration of semiconductor talents. Data from Zhaopin recruitment show that the average monthly salary of core positions in the semiconductor industry in Chinese Mainland will reach 18335 yuan in the first nine months of 2022, up 12% year on year, and the remuneration of top talents will increase by no less than 50%.
In the face of talent shortage, relevant departments of the central government have added interdisciplinary categories to the original 13 university disciplines, and set the integrated circuit science and engineering, which originally belonged to the second level discipline under “Electronic Science and Technology”, as the first level discipline.
At the university level, Nanjing took the lead in creating the first integrated circuit university in Chinese Mainland in 2020, which is used to train advanced applied technical talents; In April 2021, Tsinghua University established the School of Integrated Circuits; The University of Electronic Science and Technology has also been approved to undertake the “National Integrated Circuit Industry Education Integration Innovation Platform” project. Currently, eight top domestic universities, including Tsinghua University, Peking University, and Fudan University, have been approved to build integrated circuit colleges, starting from the direction of industry-university-research collaboration.
At the same time, semiconductor enterprises in Chinese Mainland are also actively providing practice scenarios for the integration of production and education, helping colleges and universities to cultivate more professional talents.
In summary, in the face of the increasingly prominent talent shortage, several key regions of the global semiconductor industry are taking comprehensive measures to make great efforts to cultivate new talents and attract existing talents in the market, with a view to remaining invincible in the new competitive environment.

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