School for semiconductors? Arm tries to address chip talent shortages
US, Europe and China all rushing to create next gen of experts and upskill existing workforce
Chip designer Arm is looking to address the shortage of vital skills in the semiconductor industry with an initiative that aims to help find the next generation of talent and upskill the existing workforce.
The global initiative – the Semiconductor Education Alliance (SEA) – brings together a bunch of like-minded companies from across the industry, all intent on ensuring that a lack of workers with the right expertise does not hinder growth, just when many countries are looking to revitalize their chip industries.
Gary Campbell, Arm EVP for Central Engineering, said the alliance builds on existing agreements and workstreams from Arm and the wider industry as well as creating new ones. He described it as an evolution of the company's existing education model, in which Arm sees itself playing a coordination role.
The idea is for Alliance members to share resources and nous through various forums in what Campbell refers to as a federated and open model. This is intended to give teachers, researchers and students access to resources and to collaborate on projects, such as joint bids for research grants.
Some projects are said to be already in the pipeline, such as educational resources for chip design using state-of-the-art tools, which Arm is developing with firms in the field of Electronic Design Automation (EDA).
There is also a system-on-chip (SoC) design platform for academia, which will provide access to the latest semiconductor fabrication technologies from Arm and others, and new distance learning solutions in computer engineering and informatics.
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Others involved in SEA include single-board computer maker Arduino, EDA developer Cadence, STMicroelectronics, Synopsys, Semiconductor Research Corporation, Cornell University in New York, Taiwan Semiconductor Research Institute, the All-India Council for Technical Education, and the University of Southampton in the UK.
“The Semiconductor Education Alliance aims to better align the industry around common goals, shared resources, and communities of best practice to tackle the skills gap that threatens progress today,” said Campbell.
The skills shortage is looming as nations around the world seek to boost their domestic semiconductor industries, partly to limit their reliance on chips made in Asia and partly to try to ensure supply lines in case of disruptive global events such as the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the UK, there are insufficient graduate engineers to drive forward innovation and progress, according to the UK Electronics Skills Foundation (UKESF), an educational charity which is a backer of Arm’s Semiconductor Education Alliance.
It said that only 3,245 students enrolled on degrees in Electronic and Electrical Engineering courses in 2021, and that over 80 percent of British companies involved with chip design have unfilled vacancies.
Global competition is partly to blame for this, as demand for talent is fierce, and other nations including the US are already investing heavily in attracting skilled workers, the UKESF said.
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The organization called on the UK government to do more to address this when it announced the country's national semiconductor strategy in May, saying there needs to be a much greater focus on electronics in secondary education.
“To make home-grown talent happen we need to start with schools. We need to raise awareness and increase knowledge and interest in electronics and semiconductors at secondary schools,” CEO Stewart Edmondson said. “We need the Government to invest in growing a national talent pool through UKESF’s proven activities.”
This is not just a UK problem, of course, and the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) in the US issued a report this week claiming the country's semiconductor industry faces a shortfall of 67,000 technicians, engineers, and computer scientists by 2030.
That could be an issue for US efforts to boost its domestic semiconductor manufacturing capacity under the auspices of the $52 billion CHIPS Act, although a bunch of Midwestern colleges and universities have already taken it upon themselves to do something about this, as we reported last year.
Likewise, one of the stated aims of the €43 billion ($47.4 billion) European Chips Act, which was given final approval by the European Council this week, is to address the skills shortage, attract new talent and support the emergence of a skilled workforce, in order to strengthen Europe’s industrial base in semiconductors.
Even China faces a shortage of an estimated 200,000 industry workers this year, according to Reuters, quoting a white paper by the China Semiconductor Industry Association (CSIA).
According to consultant Deloitte, more than a million additional skilled workers will be needed globally to meet demand in the semiconductor industry.
The chip industry has long linked up with universities and engineering schools, Deloitte said. Going forward, companies also need to work more with local tech schools, vocational schools, and community colleges; and other organizations, such as the National Science Foundation in the US. ®