A skill can be best defined as a learned ability to act with determined results with good execution often within a given amount of time, energy, or both. Whilst a lot has been spoken about the “Digital Revolution” and “Industry 4.0” with the chip at the heart of this ongoing paradigm change, the fulcrum of chip design and manufacturing lies in skill development. This skill gap is pertinent not only to our country but also to the rest of the world. It is sometimes also referred to as a ‘talent deficit’ and is a stark reality with increasing demand, geopolitical changes, and the post-pandemic world order. This critical aspect has been rightly identified and accorded importance by the government, industry, and academia in India.
Skilling in Semiconductors and ESDM
Skilling in semiconductors and ESDM requires much greater understanding and therefore goes beyond basic certification. Shortages in this domain are increasing and several long-term remedies will need to be put in place, besides funding and investment. As a direct consequence of this shortage, the growth of the industry would be adversely affected in the times to come. As a top global fintech adapter
, second in terms of internet users
, with the world’s third largest start-up ecosystem and a large consumer base of more than a billion, India is poised to be the digital powerhouse of the future. Skilling, therefore, needs to be the focus as India embarks on a journey to build fabrication plants and compound semiconductors and embraces a high growth rate of the Electronics System Design & Manufacturing (ESDM) industry with a robust edifice of a policy framework.
Shortages in this domain are increasing and several long-term remedies will need to be put in place, besides funding and investment. As a direct consequence of this shortage, the growth of the industry would be adversely affected in the times to come.
A layered approach
- In the first layer, the skilling of the workforce in Industrial Training Institutes (ITI), which have been pivotal in providing a skilled workforce in nearly all sectors, needs to be harnessed through several courses in semiconductors and components, consumer electronics, IT hardware, PCB design, communication and broadcasting as well as industrial automation. This layer is manpower-intensive and can have linkages with private institutions which can be funded by corporates, industry associations and CSR funding. This in itself can be the bedrock of a talent pool with a designated yet dynamic syllabus taught in an online or offline format. This layer has inherent mobility and allows a huge population of people to gain expertise, and the same pool can be utilised for the ‘Training the Trainer’ programme wherein trained manpower can augment the training of new entrants seamlessly. Whilst there has been progressive thought and action in this domain, centralised coordination will be a force multiplier in the future.
- The second layer encompasses undergraduate courses in engineering and other subjects that students frequently opt for. With 1.5 million engineering graduates every year and due to the IT boom in the past two decades, there are few takers for microelectronics, electrical, and material engineering jobs. The two main arguments for the same are the lack of awareness and availability of job options as compared to Computer Science and allied disciplines. It is, therefore, pivotal to address these two aspects to mitigate the skill gap in ESDM and semiconductor space. The New Education Policy is a path-breaking reform with STEM subjects at its core and the same will be the harbinger of capacity building in the future. Short diploma courses for undergraduate students with practical experience in chip design by nominated institutions of repute can also be a part of this layer.
- The third layer comprises specialisations/master’s degrees which are highly undersubscribed and require the building of capacities and investment in faculty. This is critical for creating robust academia connect which will lead to mentoring and state-of-the-art R&D facilities in the next decade. This layer will require focused funding as well as creating a viable ecosystem to ensure space and infrastructure for students who opt to study in India.
- The fourth layer can look into the dynamics of making India the R&D hub with years of expertise in design and capabilities to plug in the global supply chains in terms of chemicals as well as materials. This will encompass world-class testing laboratories which can be made on the existing ones as well as following a de novo approach with varied models as options. Incentivising international trusted partners to pool their talent to train our own is also an option which can be explored. After a careful cost-benefit analysis, a talent exchange by the industry or a joint workforce development initiative can also be considered.
During times of crisis, some nation-states could propagate an artificial deficit of trained manpower in the semiconductor domain, putting a premium on their own skilled workforce.
Future power play
The world is constantly changing. The dynamic vaccine supply chains during the pandemic proved that skilled manpower will be at a premium and will come with a price. In future, during times of crisis, some nation-states could propagate an artificial deficit of trained manpower in the semiconductor domain, putting a premium on their own skilled workforce. Similarly, some nation-states may use the skilled manpower in this space to further their own agendas and interests. Building capacities take a long time whereas intentions can change overnight.
India presently stands at the inflection point of scale and speed of manufacturing diversified product lines for a wide range of applications in future. It is therefore imperative to create a robust ecosystem for a highly skilled workforce for electronics, chip design, and manufacturing sectors. Skilling the workforce is the very core of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’.
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