China's chip talent gap is about 300,000

High-quality chip manufacturing talents are most in short supply, and my country is strengthening the construction of integrated circuits and software majors in colleges and universities

  On the afternoon of July 4, the "Announcement on the Resignation of Core Technicians" issued by SMIC International Integrated Circuit Manufacturing Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as "SMIC") showed that the core technician (Vice President) Wu Jingang recently applied for personal reasons. Resign from relevant positions and complete resignation procedures.

After resignation, Wu Jingang no longer holds any position in SMIC.

  As soon as the news came out, "SMIC's core technical staff resigned" rushed to the hot search on Weibo.

SMIC ranks fourth among global wafer (ie silicon wafers used in the manufacture of silicon semiconductor circuits) foundries.

It is also a large-scale, technologically advanced integrated circuit manufacturing company in mainland China.

  According to the social responsibility report released by SMIC, the company's employee turnover rate in 2018 was 22%, and that of SMIC's Shanghai area was 52.2%.

Although there has been a decline in 2019, there is still a 17.5% churn rate, and Shanghai is still the main churn.

  Not only SMIC, but also Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as "TSMC"), the world's largest foundry, is also facing the problem of brain drain.

The social responsibility report released by TSMC shows that the turnover rate of new hires within one year in 2020 will reach 15.7%, which has not reached the target of “the turnover rate does not exceed 13.5%”.

  Shenzhen HiSilicon Semiconductor Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as "HiSilicon"), a leading chip design company in the industry, has also recently promoted the "HiSilicon Unclassified Decryption Agreement".

Industry insiders told Xinjing Think Tank that because of the serious phenomenon of talent digging in start-ups in the past two years, HiSilicon has to improve preventive measures.

  These facts reflect the current situation of my country's shortage of chip talents.

  So, how scarce is the talent in the chip industry?

Which fields are more in short supply?

  The total gap is about 300,000

  Chip design engineer Ziyu recently hid his resume.

  He told Xinjing Think Tank that what he was engaged in was the design of Class A chips, but many headhunters were not necessarily clear: it was actually difficult for him to do the design work of Class B chips.

"Because this requires a track change, and every time a headhunter calls, I need to explain."

  Public information shows that at room temperature, materials with conductivity between conductors and insulators are called semiconductors. There are four main types of products, namely integrated circuits, optoelectronic devices, discrete devices and sensors.

Due to the large share of integrated circuits, semiconductors are usually equated with integrated circuits.

The integrated circuits are divided into microprocessors, memories, logic devices and analog devices.

These different types of integrated circuits or a single type of integrated circuits are called chips.

  Wang Lei, the business director of Career International Industrial, a listed human resources company, introduced to Xinjing Think Tank that they contacted similar candidates some time ago.

Among them, one candidate's resume was actually only posted on the recruitment website for one day, and more than 20 headhunters called him and asked him if he wanted to see new job opportunities.

  According to Wang Lei, the calculation results of Career International in the first quarter of this year show that "Judging from the customers we serve, the demand for recruitment has increased by about 60% over the same period last year."

  On the one hand, headhunters help to grab current employees who have the intention to leave. On the other hand, some college graduates have also been "snatched".

Dong An, a university professor who has worked in a company for 14 years, told Xinjing Think Tank that several of his graduate students and doctoral students, "were robbed by several companies (reservations) before they graduated."

  Behind the fierce "grabbing battle" is the shortage of people in the chip industry.

  Regarding the shortage of talents, Wang Lei said that the scope of statistics needs to be defined first. For example, are industrial skilled workers counted?

In addition, there are the upstream raw materials fields of various industrial chains, and the equipment fields for manufacturing chips.

If these are counted, the chip talent gap is definitely greater than 300,000 people.

This estimate is based on the "China Integration Industry Talent White Paper" (compiled by China Electronics Information Industry Development Research Institute in conjunction with China Semiconductor Industry Association and other units) that has been continuously released in recent years, as well as data issued by public employment service agencies in designated monitoring cities across the country. .

  Professor Li Jingbo, executive director of the Department of Engineering of South China Normal University and dean of the School of Semiconductor Science and Technology, told Xinjing Think Tank that South China Normal University is applying for a doctoral program in a first-level discipline of integrated circuits, so their team checked the relevant information.

If we only count talents like integrated circuits, the gap may be two to three million.

  Li Jingbo believes that if the photonic chip in the communications field is included, the talent gap in this field is more than 100,000.

In addition, there are currently very hot power chips, and the talent gap in this field is at least 100,000 or more.

"If we add up all the fields, the talent gap for our country's chips may be around 600,000."

  Professor Wang Zhihua of the School of Integrated Circuits at Tsinghua University once said that if half of the global chip output value (approximately US$210 billion) is set as the goal, a team of 350,000 to 800,000 engineers and technicians will be needed.

Although this does not require all three hundred thousand talents to be on duty at once, the speed of cultivating talents in our country is far from reaching the target.

  "If there is a national talent gap of 600,000, then Guangdong’s semiconductor chip talent gap may also be more than 200,000." Li Jingbo said that currently only three universities in Guangdong Province, Sun Yat-sen University, South China University of Technology and South China Normal University, have microelectronics and Doctorate degree in solid state electronics.

The number of doctoral graduates of the three universities is between 100 and 120 a year.

  Public data shows that in terms of chip-related talents, 43.21% are undergraduates, 31.65% are masters, 4.6% are doctors and above, and 20.54% are employees with a college degree or below.

  Data from the "White Paper on Talents in China's Integrated Circuit Industry (2019~2020)" shows that by 2022, my country's chip professionals will still have a gap of about 250,000.

Judging from the current industry development trend, the total supply of integrated circuit talents is still insufficient, and there is a problem of structural imbalance.

  "The biggest gap in chip manufacturing talent"

  "Every link is lacking, from chip design to chip tape-out (a major manufacturing process for chip manufacturing), the manufacturing link may be the most lacking." Li Jingbo said, my country's packaging capabilities are already leading the world, and the technical content is also Relatively low, the talent gap in this link is not so serious.

  Dong An also believes that my country's chip industry mainly lacks engineers with practical experience, especially process engineers and equipment engineers.

The biggest challenge currently restricting the chip industry is chip manufacturing.

Chip manufacturing is an extremely complex system engineering. Every step needs to be extreme. If one link goes wrong, the whole process will fail.

  "This requires a large number of experienced and responsible engineers and technicians to invest in this industry." Dong An said that there is a lack of talents in this area, and domestic companies have to dig out talents from each other.

In fact, this increases manufacturing costs on the one hand, and on the other hand, it is also not conducive to the fact that these engineers can play their roles in one place.

  The worse result is that the quality of talent training cannot be guaranteed, and there is a phenomenon of facilitating growth.

"The most in short supply in China is high-quality chip talents. This is currently one of the biggest problems that hinder the development and promotion of the industry," Dong An said.

  Wu Huasan, who has worked in chip companies for more than 20 years, told Xinjing Think Tank that if chips and related components can be divided into three parts: equipment, materials and software.

The self-sufficiency rate of these three parts in the country is very low, the condition of materials is slightly better, and the condition of the other two parts is not ideal.

Because the self-sufficiency rate is now required to increase, the country needs more and better equipment and software to design and produce chips, and this is the area where the "stuck neck" is encountered.

  In terms of specific positions, Wang Lei introduced that chip design engineers, EDA R&D engineers, digital verification engineers, and wafer packaging engineers are basically the most demanding talents in these positions.

  Wang Lei introduced that many chip-related freshmen have already been booked by chip companies before they graduate.

The design jobs of chip companies in some second-tier cities in Jiangsu and Zhejiang (such as Wuxi) pay more than 300,000 yuan to graduate students, and a one-time subsidy will also give more than 100,000 yuan.

  The shortage of the talent market has also contributed to salary increases.

According to the data of "Talent Market Insights and Salary Guide (2021)" released by Career International, the current annual salary of chip design engineers is between 600,000 and 1.2 million, and job-hopping may increase by 10% to 30%; verification engineers’ current annual salary is 60 Between 10,000 yuan and 1.5 million yuan, job-hopping may increase salary by 10%~15%; the current annual salary of CPU/GPU leaders is 1.5 million yuan to 6 million yuan, and job-hopping may increase salary by 30%~50%.

  High-end talents are more concerned.

According to a survey conducted by the international business strategy company IBS, judging from the existing talent structure of employees, China's chip industry is in urgent need of a large amount of fresh blood input.

Among them, in addition to the lack of high-end talents, especially leading talents, compound talents, international innovative talents and application-oriented talents are also in short supply.

  A typical case is that Liang Mengsong, the co-CEO of SMIC, was exposed to submitting his resignation last year, but was eventually retained by a large amount of money.

According to data from SMIC's 2020 annual report, Liang Mengsong's "total pre-tax remuneration received from the company during the reporting period (that is, 2020)" was 28.811 million yuan, the highest annual salary of all executive directors.

This is more than ten times that of Wu Jingang, vice president of technology research and development, and nearly seven times that of Zhou Meisheng, executive vice president of technology research and development.

This is also more than ten times the annual salary before Leung Mengsong proposed to leave at the end of last year.

  The world is lacking, China lacks most

  Wang Lei introduced that chip talents are not only in short supply in China.

European and American countries, Japan, and South Korea are also in short supply.

For example, in Europe and the United States, some well-known companies, such as AMD, are also expanding, including Apple, Google, and some start-up companies continue to enter this market or deepen the market.

Several big companies are digging corners and offering very good terms on salary, which may be doubled.

"To put it bluntly, from the global market, there is a shortage of chip talents."

  Wang Lei believes that compared to Europe, America, Japan, and South Korea, China (Mainland) is definitely ranked first, and it is the most urgent and shortest chip talent.

  Dong An explained that at present, from a global perspective, the shortage of talents in my country is indeed serious.

The US semiconductor industry developed early and matured, and its talent training system was perfect.

More importantly, most of the best talents from around the world have been attracted to the United States.

This is one of the driving forces for the development of the US semiconductor industry.

At Intel, almost half of the engineers are outstanding immigrants from various countries.

  Wu Huasan said that if my country's demands are autonomous and controllable, and the United States imposes restrictions on our country, and chips have to be designed and manufactured by themselves, then "the problem of lack of talent is naturally very serious."

  The US chip industry is not really self-manufactured, but outsourced to Europe, Japan and other countries (regions), such as lithography machines (outsourced to Dutch companies for production), etching machines, and films.

However, the United States has the right to speak in chip manufacturing technology.

  Wu Huasan introduced that if a Chinese company subcontracts its chip business to overseas manufacturers for foundry, can the foundry technology be controlled by domestic companies?

But American companies hand over chips to overseas companies for foundry, and their companies can control the technology.

Because the design and manufacturing of our country's chips still rely on imported equipment (software).

In other words, developed countries can use this technology to "catch" our "neck".

If you want to cultivate talents, maybe all talents in this field need to be cultivated.

This problem does not exist in the United States.

  According to data from the China Semiconductor Industry Association, from 2016 to 2020, my country's chip imports continued to increase from US$227.07 billion to US$350.04 billion.

Taking 2020 as an example, the amount of chip imports is about three times that of domestic sales, accounting for about 16.97% of all imports of goods in the country (approximately US$206.2096 billion).

  "Talent is the first resource"

  Some high-level leading talents are indeed the core of industrial development.

Such talents are relatively scarce and the introduction cost is high.

Dong An said that the lack of these talents is bound to "affect the balanced development of the industry, sustainable development and upgrading."

  According to a person familiar with the matter, the engineers of a leading chip design company in China are often poached by industry peers, especially high-paying start-ups.

If it happens that a team leader is poached, and such a person is missing, the work of the team will be stagnant for a period of time, and only the right person in charge can continue to follow up.

"For enterprises, this must have brought a temporary stagnant effect."

  Many interviewees said that there is no one-time solution to the shortage of chip talents, only to gradually fill the gap.

  Yan Xiaolang, executive vice chairman of the Integrated Development Alliance of Integrated Circuit Industry and Education, and leader of the National Demonstrative Microelectronics Institute Construction Expert Group, once said that the cultivation of engineering talents is a worldwide problem.

Especially for integrated circuit talents, both knowledge and skills must be able to innovate as well as entrepreneurship. Actual combat and cross-industry are the two key words.

  "Talents are the primary resource, and insufficient talent reserves have become a "stuck neck" problem in my country's integrated circuit industry." Professor Yu Hongyu, Dean of the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Microelectronics School of Southern University of Science and Technology and Dean of the Shenzhen Third Generation Semiconductor Research Institute, Xiang Xinjing The think tank said that in recent years, under the background of the domestic production line layout entering the fast lane, chip manufacturing companies, especially traditional old-brand manufacturing companies, have suffered serious brain drain.

At the same time, malicious competition among domestic manufacturing companies for talents is now more common and should be taken seriously.

  However, this situation may change.

In July 2020, the "Notice on Printing and Distributing Several Policies to Promote the High-quality Development of the Integrated Circuit Industry and Software Industry in the New Era" issued by the State Council proposed to further strengthen the construction of integrated circuits and software majors in colleges and universities, and accelerate the establishment of integrated circuit disciplines. Closely adjust the curriculum, teaching plans and teaching methods in line with the needs of industry development, and strive to cultivate high-level talents with compound and practical skills.

  On December 30, 2020, the Academic Degrees Committee of the State Council and the Ministry of Education issued the "Notice on the Establishment of "Interdisciplinary" Categories, "Integrated Circuit Science and Engineering" and "National Security" first-level disciplines, which clearly stated that "Integrated Circuit Science and Engineering" "Formally established as a first-level discipline.

And proposed that all relevant units combine actual conditions to strengthen the discipline construction of "Integrated Circuit Science and Engineering" and do a good job in talent training.

  Subsequently, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Tsinghua University, Peking University and other universities have established integrated circuit colleges.

  (Due to the request of the interviewee, Wu Huasan, Dong An, and Ziyu are all pseudonyms in this article)

  Beijing News reporter Xiao Longping, intern Liu Zixuan