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Taiwan’s TSMC and other chipmakers facing labor shortage

Skilled engineer shortage could hamper Taiwan’s efforts to remain at forefront of cutting-edge semiconductors

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TSMC. (Reuters photo)

TSMC. (Reuters photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Semiconductor manufacturers are struggling to find talent to staff chip plants being built to address the global chip crunch.

The shrinking pool of qualified workers has been exacerbated due to a global labor shortage, pandemic-related demand for electronics, and governments looking to shore up domestic chip manufacturing, according to The Wall Street Journal. The breadth of expansion occurring within the chip industry has created a large demand for skilled staff.

Chip fabs need thousands of college-educated engineers to function. Technicians run and manage the semiconductor manufacturing process, while researchers design new kinds of chips and ways to produce them, according to the report.

The world’s leading chipmakers, including Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), Intel, and Samsung all have big expansion plans in the works. In Taiwan, an August report from recruiting platform 104 Job Bank estimated there was an average monthly shortfall of 27,700 semiconductor workers, a number 44% higher than a year earlier, The WSJ said.

Meanwhile, based on 2020 levels, the U.S. will need to add around 70,000 to 90,000 workers by 2025 to staff planned fab expansions, according to talent-management company Eightfold.ai.

The worker shortage in the industry has been amplified in recent years by fewer college graduates showing interest in semiconductor manufacturing, engineering professors told The WSJ. Many graduates are instead turning to software or internet services to look for employment and are less likely to pursue doctorate degrees without a significant salary payoff, the report said.

A shortage of highly skilled engineers could hamper Taiwan’s efforts to remain a leader in cutting-edge semiconductors as the technology becomes 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 SEMI and president of its Taiwan branch.

As chipmakers look to lure talent, governments may also play an important role. Chipmakers in the U.S. have asked lawmakers to let them hire internationally as the number of U.S. graduates has decreased and foreign student enrollment has increased.

Taiwan passed a law in May to encourage innovation and education in high-tech areas like semiconductors, which led to several Taiwanese universities starting specialized semiconductor colleges in partnership with companies including TSMC, The WSJ said.

“I believe industry-academia collaboration can create a foundation for the next 10 years of Taiwan’s semiconductor industry and hope to attract foreign experts and increase talent circulation,” WSJ quoted TSMC Chairman Mark Liu (劉德音) as saying at a December tech forum in Taipei.