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Embrace D.E.I.B. to Help Fill the Giant Talent Gap


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Part of an ongoing EE Times series: Diversity & Belonging in EE.
Previous parts:
• Electro Soft CEO Karla Trotman, on Reaching the Top
Natalia Vassilieva: ‘We Need to Treat Ourselves as Equal’ – EE Times

The chip industry’s longstanding workforce shortage has reached crisis proportions. Already struggling to fill tens of thousands of open positions, companies across the semiconductor supply chain will need an estimated 1 million additional workers by 2030 as more governments worldwide invest heavily in chip manufacturing as a strategic priority for national and economic security. This all comes as the industry sets it sights on topping $1 billion in revenue early that decade.

The workforce-development challenges we face are layered. As an industry, we need to explore alternative pathways to hire. We need to look at the expectations of the incoming workforce and build support networks to meet them. We need to hire for potential and explore what’s possible. Additionally, we need to diversify our talent pool.

We’ve made progress but have a long way to go. A few examples:

  • People of color and women are underrepresented across our industry in entry-level positions, and the equity gaps widen as employees move up the corporate ladder, according to a Kapor Center report issued in 2017.
  • Women make up only 25% of computing-related jobs with just 3% of those jobs held by Black women. Women make up only 14% of our engineering workforce. And only 22% of our C-suite leaders are women, according to a 2020 report by the consultancy McKinsey & Co.
  • Black people comprise between 1% and 5% of the tech workforce, and LatinX people only 7%. Furthermore, there are no Black CEOs among Fortune 500 tech companies, the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission said in 2019.

Women and people of color face systemic barriers that start in grade school and persist throughout their careers. Never mind for a moment that this is a significant social justice and equity problem; biases that stand as hurdles to STEM careers hurt chip companies and the industry as a whole, limiting our potential for innovation, productivity and profitability. That’s why reversing this trend must be a top priority.

Executives figure hugely into this reversal by encouraging an inclusive corporate culture, helping ensure diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (D.E.I.B.) remains top of mind for leaders and managers, and motivating teams by educating them on the strong link between D.E.I. and better business performance.

Diversifying the workforce will also require significant investments and systemic changes in the industry in recruitment, hiring and retention. The payoff promises to be significant: Over the next decade, the industry will thrive like never before.

D.E.I.B. as a business strategy

Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging makes good business sense. Diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams in creativity, productivity, problem-solving and revenue generation. Studies show that 75% of companies with diverse teams will exceed their financial targets. Companies that cultivate ethnic and cultural diversity have seen a 33% increase in performance. And, according to a 2018 report by the consultancy Deloitte, when a corporate team is unable to solve a problem, adding an outsider doubled its chances of arriving at the correct solution.

What’s more, companies with robust inclusion and belonging practices see better job performance and less attrition. They’re more likely to achieve their financial targets, more likely to be agile and innovative, and 8× more likely to deliver better business outcomes.

Additional challenges: curricula and cultures

Another significant challenge is bridging industry and academia. Companies across the value chain must inform the competencies they need to fill roles.

STEM textbooks and courses haven’t evolved quickly enough to keep up with the blistering pace of technology innovation and are now peppered with outdated content. The curriculum needs to be updated and refreshed for an era beyond Moore’s Law and in partnership with industry. Schools must deploy modern multimedia teaching tools, such as simulations and AR/VR experiences to enhance curricula, build new skills, and engage students.

The industry needs to establish hands-on training facilities to help build the workforce needed to meet its anticipated growth.

Both industry and academia must nurture environments where people from all backgrounds are embraced. To cultivate a sense of belonging, the semiconductor industry must adapt to the realities of the current talent pool by closely examining work-life balance, salary competitiveness and cultural inclusion.

We must, as an industry, look to alternative pathways to placements including apprenticeships and veteran training programs, shift how we hire, how we promote, and how we support incoming talent.

We are seeing a sea change in workforce development perspectives across the industry, driven by the talent crisis in conjunction with the CHIPS Act and its investments and incentives that will give rise to a new generation of semiconductor manufacturing facilities—all requiring specialized talent.

Long-held attitudes and hesitations toward embracing alternative pathways are thawing. New coalitions amongst companies are forming in an industry obsessed with proprietary IP. A renaissance, even a radical rethink, is sweeping chip industry workforce development.

SEMI Foundation: driving solutions

At the SEMI Foundation, we are steeped in both research and the day-to-day operations of industry, academia and workforce needs. Since 2019, the Foundation has expanded dramatically. With investments from industry, a growing momentum to re-shore in the U.S., and a renewed commitmentto building a larger, more diverse and more equitable workforce pipeline, we conducted extensive research and launched numerous program pilots to determine the most critical workforce needs and the best, highest and most impactful use of our position, relationships and resources.

Today, the Foundation delivers over a dozen distinct workforce-development initiatives that facilitate authentic connections with more than 1.7 million students and job seekers annually. These initiatives are unique resources and are designed to both address the microelectronics workforce crisis while promoting economic mobility and opportunity for workers.

They’re rooted in diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (D.E.I.B.) and intentionally welcome people who have historically been excluded from the technology sector.

Much of this work centers around raising awareness of the industry as a whole, building collective momentum alongside member companies that are successful in raising individual brand awareness but may face challenges in raising the identity of the industry.

In the last year, with the support of our partners, we have successfully launched the SEMI Career and Apprenticeship Network, our Registered Apprenticeship Program, in California and Michigan, and the first apprentices are on track to be hired this fall.

We’ve reached more than 1.7 million students worldwide through our image and awareness campaigns. We’ve also launched veteran-hiring events through our SEMI VetWorks initiative.

SEMI University is now offered in 42 countries, and we’ve created a Career Portal and a Roadtrip Nation documentary series highlighting opportunities across the microelectronics ecosystem.

These are just a few of the programs that we have built and scaled that no single company could offer on their own. They address what we know to be true about the best approach to the talent-gap problem in our field. We need:

  • Strong coalitions among industry, academia, and talent-development organizations to create educational and career pathways that are industry-led, worker-centric and grounded in updated, relevant training curricula.
  • Companies to practice radical diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging practices so people from all backgrounds can enter and thrive in the industry. Throughout the industry, we need more diversity not only at the entry level but also in executive positions.
  • Large-scale, federal investment that supports chip industry workforce development and related academic initiatives.
  • Updated and modernized curricula and training facilities.
  • Recruitment of people with diverse backgrounds into the talent-development fold, which will facilitate developing more targeted programs.

As an industry, we need to fundamentally rethink workforce development, establish deeper and more expansive partnerships, explore alternative pathways, and better understand what it takes to move just one person into a new career.

—Shari Liss is executive director at the SEMI Foundation.

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