Inside the race to train more workers in the chip-making capital of the world

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Build the technology of the future. Protect the nation from attack. Buy a sports car.

These were some of the rewards of working in the semiconductor industry, 200 high school students learned at a recent daylong recruiting event for one of Taiwan’s top engineering schools.

“Taiwan doesn’t have many natural resources,” Morris Ker, the chair of the newly created microelectronics department at National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University told the students. “You are Taiwan’s high-quality ‘brain mine.’ You must not waste the intelligence given to you.”

The island of 23 million people produces nearly one-fifth of the world’s semiconductors, microchips that power just about everything—home appliances, cars, smartphones and more. Furthermore, Taiwan specializes in the smallest, most advanced processors, accounting for 69% of global production in 2022, according to the Semiconductor Industry Assn. and the Boston Consulting Group.

But a pandemic-induced chip shortage, along with rising geopolitical tensions in Asia, have highlighted the fragility of the current supply chain—and its reliance on an island under the specter of a takeover by China.

Across the U.S., Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China, the semiconductor industry is already short hundreds of thousands of workers. In 2022, the consulting and financial services giant Deloitte estimated that semiconductor companies would need more than 1 million additional skilled workers by 2030.

Seeking to maintain Taiwan’s status as the chip-making capital of the world, the government and several corporations here helped the university—known as NYCU—create the microelectronics department last year to fast-track students into industry jobs. Now the department was recruiting its inaugural class.

Wu Min-han, 20, who sat front row with his mother, didn’t need much convincing.

He had first applied to college to major in mathematics, but dropped out after he lost interest in the subject. Then he read about the new microelectronics program and decided to apply. He’s waiting to hear.

“This department could have a pretty positive impact on my future career prospects,” he said.

Others were torn.

Lian Yu-yan, 18, said that while the new department seems impressive, she’s also interested in majoring in mechanical engineering and photonics. She hopes to find a high-paid tech job after graduating from college, but wants to keep her options open.

Her father, who accompanied her to the event, has worked in the semiconductor industry and sees high growth potential with the evolution of AI. However, that hasn’t done much to persuade his daughter.

“You can’t control Gen Z,” he said with a laugh and a shrug.

Many prospective students competing for the 65 slots in next semester’s program listed salary and job stability among their top considerations. In Taiwan, there are few industries that can compete with semiconductors on pay and prestige.

2024 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Inside the race to train more workers in the chip-making capital of the world (2024, June 10)
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