January 11, 2022

To Support the US Semiconductor Industry, Hire for Skills and Potential

Semiconductors, also known as integrated circuits or microchips, play an essential role in daily life and in technological and economic growth. The Semiconductor Industry Association estimates that over 100 billion semiconductors are in use daily worldwide.

Shortages in semiconductor availability in the U.S., exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, are already causing hardships for auto manufacturers, as reported in the Wall Street Journal January 2. These struggles are likely to continue into 2022, says Dan Hearsch, a managing director in the automotive and industrial practice at consulting firm AlixPartners.

Currently, the U.S. is a world leader in semiconductor design, but the country is losing global market share to Asian firms when it comes to manufacturing. Shoring up the nation’s semiconductor production will require attention to policy, long-term planning, and skills-based hiring.

Roles Are Changing, But Skills Are Transferable

Making any one world region independent when it comes to semiconductor design and manufacturing may be out of reach, due to the investment required to bring the disparate stages of the process together, says Margrethe Vestager, commissioner for competition and executive vice president at the European Commission. As U.S. firms seek to rebalance their roles in the global semiconductor industry, they’ll need to focus on the changing roles and skills required for success in the field.

Currently, three major talent groups are required for successful semiconductor fabrication:

  • Production Engineering, which designs, runs, tests, and upgrades plant systems and processes.
  • Production Operations, responsible for running, monitoring, and troubleshooting production equipment.
  • Logistics and Support, which procures material, maintains facilities, and sustains communications links with corporate business offices.

The greatest growth opportunities in industry roles are in production engineering, while production operations roles are declining in relevance. These changes reflect overall hiring market trends, which are emphasizing skills in data analytics, continuous learning, critical thinking, and strategizing, while downplaying task-specific skills like operating certain types of equipment or software. Like other technology-focused fields, the semiconductor industry sees increased pressure to improve and change skills due to the relentless pace of innovation and change.

Because declining and rising job role categories are linked by their focus on semiconductor design and manufacturing, opportunities exist to link declining roles with rising ones through the skills the two roles have in common. Workers can transition to growing roles by using the skills they already have as a basis for further learning.

Truck with refrigerated semi-trailer on a mountain road with the sea and the sun on the horizon; Semiconductor reshoring concept

It’s Never Been More Important to Hire for Potential

The semiconductor industry faces significant disruption from technological innovation. At a time of rapid shifts in role and skill relevance for semiconductor manufacturing workers, hiring for potential is a must.

Hiring for potential requires a broadened view of hiring criteria. Companies that hire for potential consider not only skills that are immediately relevant to the role as it now stands, but also skills that are adjacent to the immediately-relevant skills. Adjacent skills are closely related to immediate skills, allowing workers to learn more quickly, as they already have a familiarity with the subject matter and a basis for comparison.

In the semiconductor industry, several top skills have adjacent skills that prepare candidates to learn what they need to know for success in semiconductor manufacturing:

  • Matlab proficiency is adjacent to skill with LabVIEW, C++, AutoCAD, Simulink, and algorithm design.
  • Design of experiments is related to skills in AutoCAD as well, along with skills in process control, continuous improvement, process simulation, and FMEA.
  • Continuous improvement skills are adjacent to skills in lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, Kaizen, process engineering, and 5s.
  • Supply chain management skills overlap with logistics and operations management, procurement, strategic sourcing, and customer service.

Semiconductor industry employers seeking talent can broaden their talent pool by embracing adjacent skills. A company that needs to improve its supply chain management, for example, may expand its talent search to include not only supply chain management professionals, but also workers with experience in strategic sourcing or operations management. The company might even apply these insights to its own workforce, offering its existing staff in adjacent areas the opportunity to expand their skills in supply chain management.

To hire for potential, map skills in order to understand which skills lie adjacent to one another. Access to sufficient data to make reliable predictions is a must. Using artificial intelligence and deep learning, semiconductor manufacturers can more easily spot patterns in skill adjacency. They can then apply these insights to the hiring process in order to hire for potential.

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