If Tsai Ing-wen’s plan succeeds, her country will start hiring up to 500 new electronic engineering experts each year from next year. By order of the Taiwanese president, five “semiconductor academies” were set up, each with a quota for issuing 100 master’s and doctoral degrees a year.
For the Taiwanese economy, these potential experts are a matter of survival.
The growing demand for semiconductors, driven by work from home due to the pandemic, as well as the widespread use of chips in everything from augmented reality headsets to electric cars, has led to an economic revival in Taiwan, while most The world’s greatness has plunged into the Covid- recession caused over the last two years. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world’s largest manufacturer of custom-made chips, is expected to produce another set of impressive results on Thursday, reflecting this recovery.
But with Taiwan’s young declining population choosing electronics engineering degrees (even fewer are studying in the US), the resource that spurred the country’s transformation into the world’s largest chip manufacturing hub is drying up quickly.
Meanwhile, governments from the United States in Europe and Japan are trying to bring home semiconductor manufacturing to provide critical supply chains for the defense industry and reduce downtime risks, such as the severe chip shortage forced by some car factories. to stop production last year. The subsidy-backed push has already pushed Taiwan Semiconductor to build a $ 12 billion semiconductor manufacturing plant in the United States and commit to a joint venture in Japan.
The “semiconductor academies” that President Tsai has commissioned are intended to address all of this. “We will train people from countries that do not yet have a chip industry,” says Kong Ming-hsin, chief economic planner in Taiwan. “They can start working here first as long as the chip industry in their country is not ready yet. It will be like the Taiwanese who have a doctorate in” And they built our chip industry at home. This will create a productive environment for talented semiconductors. “
He would be followed by Maurice Chang, founder of Taiwan Semiconductor Corporation and a graduate of MIT-Stanford, who set up his company in Taiwan after more than 25 years at Texas Instruments in the US.
Indeed, Taiwan urgently needs a replacement for the minds that have led the chip industry for decades. In the late 1980s, the number of Taiwanese pursuing a doctorate in engineering in the United States rose from 745 in 1985 to a peak of 1,302 in 1994, according to the U.S. National Science Foundation. But those numbers have fallen since then, reaching a new low of just 417 people in 2020, the last year for which data are available.
Moreover, 76.9 percent of Taiwanese who received their doctorate in the United States in 2020 were planning to stay, up from 60 percent 20 years ago.
The Taiwanese government now hopes that young engineers from other countries aspiring to build the chip industry, such as India, can establish the same connection with Taiwan.
“You can see from our past that most of the people who studied and worked in the United States and then returned to the country have maintained a very good relationship with the United States,” says Kong. “When they improve their technology, they continue to work with the United States, and so will the people who study here.
But the lack of new technological talent has not only affected Taiwan’s semiconductor sector. It has stifled the country’s technology industry as a whole, leaving it stuck in manufacturing and failing to take the next step in the higher-margin categories of the chip sector, as well as in new areas.
To activate its innovative advantage, Taiwan needs to focus more on markets than technology, asked Evan Feigenbaum, vice president for studies at Carnegie Endowment in Washington, D.C., in a 2020 report based on a survey of technology industry experts in Taiwan and the United States. .
He wrote, “Taiwan’s ecosystem has faced particular pressures regarding its ability to reorient itself from the design and production of semiconductors and chips to new industries facing the future. Many of the new systems in “These industries require sophisticated equipment. But they also require parallel software modifications. Firms tend to have national innovation systems leading these industries to derive their competitive advantages from the integration of hardware and software.”
The lack of engineering talent and the recent acquisition of chip manufacturing facilities by Western countries has prompted Taipei to act on this advice. New Academies offer everything from integrated circuit design to nanoscience. Taiwanese tech companies would have been better off taking advantage of the situation before the pandemic-induced chip boom faded.