China is fighting a chronic talent shortage in the semiconductor industry

China is fighting a chronic talent shortage in the semiconductor industry . (Photo by NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP) (Photo by NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images)

China is fighting a chronic talent shortage in the semiconductor industry

  • China has been facing this problem for years; a talent pool that is not keeping pace with the country’s semiconductor ambition.
  • The country is suffering from a chronic shortage of scientific and engineering talent within the semiconductor industry.
  • If anything, it is hampering its efforts to become a semiconductor superpower.

The semiconductor market in China is by far the largest, accounting for about 35% of the global market share, surpassing the US, Europe, Japan and even Taiwan, which is home to the largest manufacturer of semiconductor chips. Yet, the development of China’s semiconductor technology lags behind, and it exposes the urgent need of new talent to meet the growing market demand while supplies are squeezed due to the pandemic.

In fact, according to a report published this year by the China Institute for Educational Finance Research at Peking University, the shortfall of talent in the country’s semiconductor industry doubled in 2019 to about 300,000 from 150,000 in 2015.  In fact, it is predicted that China will still have a shortage of about 250,000 specialists by 2022, a White Paper on Talents in China’s Integrated Circuit Industry 2019-2020 claimed.

While the problem is not unique to China, a recent report by South China Morning Post (SCMP) said it could be increasingly detrimental to the country’s quest to gain self-sufficiency in its fledgling semiconductor industry to fend off supply chain risks.

But based on a recent report by investment bank China International Capital Corporation (CICC), it is not a number issue, but it is regarding quality. In short, there is a lack of industry leaders, especially in chip manufacturing.

The current semiconductor job landscape in China

China had 510,000 people employed in the semiconductor industry, as of the end of 2019, up by 11% year-on-year (YoY), with 350,000 of those working directly in either design or manufacturing, according to SCMP. By comparison, the US had about 280,000 professionals in semiconductor design and manufacturing.

It is not that the government is not doing something about it. To recall, in August last year, China issued its Number 8 policy, three months after the Trump administration barred Huawei from sourcing chips from the global foundries. The policy is a detailed guideline to shore up its semiconductor industry with tax incentives, supportive financing and better training schemes emphasizing a blend of academia and industry.

Fortunately, Tsinghua University in China, a locally-claimed prestige university,  established a specialised chip college in April this year. The semiconductor school is based on Tsinghua’s original departments of microelectronics, nanoelectronics and electrical engineering, according to state news. The goal is to train much-needed semiconductor engineers and ultimately to achieve the national goal of chip self-efficiency amid a global shortage which is exacerbated by the tech war between Washington and Beijing.