By Emir Demircan, Senior Manager Advocacy and Public Policy, SEMI Europe
Electronic manufacturing is becoming cool to today’s youth. STEM skills are hot in the global job market – though the number of females pursuing a STEM education continues to lag. Work-based learning is key to mastering new technologies. And the electronics industry needs a global talent pipeline more than ever.
These were key highlights from a SEMI Member Forum in December that brought together industry representatives and students in Dresden to weigh in on job-skills challenges facing the electronics manufacturers and solutions for the industry to consider. Here are the takeaways:
1) Electronics is much more than manufacturing
For many years, working in the manufacturing industry was not an appealing prospect for millennials. This picture is certainly changing. The pivotal role of electronics manufacturing in helping solve grand societal challenges in areas such as the environment, healthcare and urban mobility is reaffirmed by countries around the world. Electronics is the lifeblood of game-changing technologies such as autonomous driving, AI, IoT, and VR/AR, enticing more young employees into careers in research, design, technology development, production, cyber security and international business, and in disciplines ranging from engineering and data analytics to software development and cyber security.
What’s more, the drudgery of many factory jobs is disappearing thanks to automation, digitization and robotization. According to CEDEFOP, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, low-skilled jobs in electro-engineering and machine operations/assembly in the European Union (EU) is projected to decrease 6.98 percent and 2.03 percent, respectively, between 2015 and 2025.
In parallel, the industry will need more high-skilled workers. For instance, within the same period, CEDEFOP forecasts a 12.51 percent increase in jobs for EU researchers and engineers. Soft skills will see high demand too. As the electronics industry continues to globalize and drive the integration of vertical technologies, workers proficient in communicating in an international environment, leading multicultural teams, developing tailor-made solutions and making data-driven decisions will see higher demand.
2) STEM skills will remain under the spotlight
Continuous innovation is the oxygen of the electronics manufacturing industry, powering the development of highly customized solutions by workers with technical expertise in chemistry, materials, design, mechanics, production and many other fields. In addition, capabilities such as smart manufacturing require workers with growing technical sophistication in areas such as software, information and communications technology (ICT) and data analytics, stiffening the challenge the electronics industry faces in finding skilled workers. Little wonder that employers in Europe struggle to build a workforce with the right technical expertise. The findings of the study “Encouraging STEM Studies for the Labour Market” conducted by the European Parliament underscores the difficulty of hiring enough workers with adequate STEM skills:
- The proportion of STEM students is not rising at the European level and the underrepresentation of women persists.
- Businesses are expected to produce about 7 million new STEM jobs, an uptick of 8 percent, between 2013 and 2025 in Europe.
3) The women-in-tech gap is becoming more persistent
The global manufacturing industry suffers from strikingly low female participation in STEM education and careers. According to UNSECO, in Europe and North America, the number of female graduates in STEM is generally low. For instance, women make up just 19 percent of engineers in Germany and the U.S. The European Parliament study confirms that STEM employment remains stubbornly male-dominated, with women filling just 24 percent of science and engineering jobs and 15 percent of science and engineering associate positions in Europe. According to an article by Guardian, a mere 16 percent of computer science undergraduates in the United Kingdom and the U.S. are female. This yawning gender gap is a deep concern for electronics manufacturing companies in Europe, hampering innovation in a sector that relies heavily on diversity and inclusion and shrinks the talent pipeline critical to remaining competitive.
4) Coping with new technologies: work-based learning is the key
The evolution of the electronics industry since the 1980s has been swift. PCs emerged largely as islands of communication, then became networked. Networking bred the proliferation of social platforms and mobile devices and, today, is giving rise to IoT. Education curricula in Europe, however, have not matured at the same pace, opening a gap between the worlds of industry and education and imposing a formidable school-to-work transition for many young graduates. Work-based learning, which helps students develop the knowledge and practical job skills needed by business, is one solution. The industry reports that work-based learning is vital to remaining competitive in the long run. Innovative dual-learning programmes, apprenticeships and industrial master’s and doctorates are shining examples that are already paying off in some parts of Europe. Such work-based learning models can be extended as a common pillar of education in Europe.
5) A global industry needs a global talent pipeline
The electronics value chain workforce needs an international and multicultural talent pipeline, chiefly spanning the U.S., Europe and Asia. However, many European manufacturers, in particular small and medium enterprises (SMEs), report that building an international workforce remains a challenge due to employment and immigration law barriers as well as cultural and linguistic differences. The EU’s Blue Card initiative, designed to facilitate hiring beyond Europe, is a step in the right direction. Nevertheless, with the exception of Germany, EU member states have made little or no use of the EU Blue Card scheme.
SEMI drives sector-wide initiatives on workforce development
Understanding the urgency, SEMI is accelerating its workforce development activities at global level. Contributing to this initiative, the SEMI talent pipeline Forum in Dresden served as an effective platform for the industry to share its challenges and opportunities with students at various education levels. Led by industry representatives, the sessions enabled the exchange of workforce-development best practices and paved the way for further collaboration among industry, academia and government in Europe. For example, in the Career Café session, students networked with hiring managers. Other workforce development initiatives include:
To help position the skills challenges faced by SEMI members high on the public policy agenda, SEMI in 2017 joined several policy groups including Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition and Expert Group on High-Tech Skills. Last year SEMI also launched Women in Tech, an initiative that convenes industry leaders to help increase female representation in the sector. SEMI also educates its members about key EU resources such as the Blue Card and Digital Opportunity Internship programmes aimed at hiring international talent. In 2018, SEMI will reach out to even more young people through its High Tech U programme to raise awareness of careers in electronics. SEMICON Europa 2018 will host dedicated talent pipeline sessions to help the industry tackle its skills challenges. ISS Europe 2018 sessions on Gaining, Training and Retaining World Class Talent will disseminate best practices to the wider industry. Also this year, SEMI Europe plans to start a new advisory group, “Workforce 4.0,” dedicated to bringing together human resources leaders in the sector to give the electronics manufacturing industry a stronger voice on workforce development.