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Taiwan Invests Billions in Next-Generation Talent for Chip Industry

Wanting to meet rising demand, Taiwan is racing to set up specialised “chip schools” that run all year round to train its next generation of semiconductor engineers. Such a timely move should cement its dominance of the industry.

The plans to come up with quality talent in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry was championed by President Tsai Ing-wen. Last year, under the country president’s initiative, the public and the private sector invested US$ 300 million to kickstart graduate school programs aimed at the semiconductor industry. This time around the private sector is infusing far more capital to ensure the lifeblood of the industry.

Amid a global shortage, semiconductor companies plough billions of dollars into capacity expansion to make the “brains” that power everything from smartphones to fighter jets. The demand for quality ICT talent is never as pronounced as Taiwan’s biggest chip manufacturer. The chip giant alone will spend up to US$ 44 billion this year while looking to hire more than 8,000 employees.

Chip companies need a lot more and better talent to compete on the global stage. Indeed, I’m devoting some of my golden years to talent development.

– Jack Sun, Dean, Taiwan Semiconductor Graduate School

Seeing the country’s need to step up, industry stalwarts are putting their attention into talent development. Jack Sun used to be the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Taiwan’s largest chip manufacturer. Now, along with a host of colleagues, he devotes his time developing the next generation of semiconductor engineers.

Sun and other industry heavyweights turned educators embody the government’s strategy of strengthening industry-academia ties to remain a critical node in the global chip supply chain. Indeed, a concerted effort is needed as the country is racing against time when it comes to the chip industry’s need for talent. Tsai pointed this out in December at the unveiling of National Tsing Hua University’s College of Semiconductor Research.

Taiwan’s government has partnered with leading chip companies to pay for these schools. The first four were established at top universities last year. To meet rising demands, each university is handed a quota of churning out about 100 master and PhD students. Other schools have been added to this list.

Moreover, Tsai has asked these semiconductor schools to stay open year-round. That means these schools have to work double-time, plough through winter and summer to ensure talent is ready in time.

The President of an industry group confirmed this saying that even before the global chip shortage, companies worried a talent crunch could hobble the booming industry. He, together with other chip executives, has been urging the government to act since 2019.

But Taiwan is facing an uphill climb. To date, Taiwan has one of the world’s lowest birth rates. Although demand for workers has soared, the island nation has been producing fewer engineers over the past decade. Even fewer are enrolling in the doctoral programmes that best prepare engineers to develop breakthrough technologies. With limited local prospects, other semiconductor firms in Taiwan are looking elsewhere and expanding their search for talent overseas.

If it plays its cards right, Taiwan should be able to maintain its global dominance in the chip industry. The country’s ability to pivot and turn itself into a digital powerhouse has been noteworthy in its commitment to move its economy forward. Lately, it has started regulating its cryptocurrency industry — long observed at an arm’s length.

As OpenGov Asia reported, Taiwan has installed an AI HUB that should put the country at the forefront of Artificial Technology in the region and in the world.

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