IC Design White Paper (4): China has become the largest source of chip design talents

Staff reporter, Taipei; Jack Wu, DIGITIMES Asia 0

Credit: AFP

When analyzing the supply and demand of global semiconductor design talents in 2021, one finds US-based companies to be the main source of chip design demand. US-based companies accounted for 43% of the global demand for semiconductor design talent, followed by China and Taiwan, which accounted for 27% and 14% respectively.

In fact, North America-based suppliers are the main demand source for global semiconductor design engineers. North America-based IC design houses, for example, are estimated to employ 113,000 semiconductor design engineers worldwide. US-based IDMs/Foundries employ 36,000 design engineers worldwide. Including the 8,000 engineers in OEMs like Apple and Tesla, the total comes to 157,000 employees.

China-based IC design houses are estimated to employ 89,000 semiconductor design engineers. Including China-based IDMs/Foundries and Internet giants/OEMs, the total number of semiconductor design engineers reach 98,000.

By geographic region, China has been the world's top region in IC design talent supply due to its numerous higher education institutes and the large number of STEM graduates from semiconductor-related majors.

Many overseas corporations also employ a large number of local talents from China. For example, Qualcomm has nearly 5000 employees in China, with most being R&D personnel. It's estimated that local and overseas suppliers in China employ 121,000 semiconductor design engineers in total.

According to the "China IC industry talent white paper," the number of local IC design employees in China reached 221,000 in 2021, and local design engineers accounted for 55% of the figure.

The number of semiconductor design engineers employed in North America totals around 87,000, with many engineers coming from foreign regions like India and China. After China and North America, India and Taiwan are the third and fourth largest supply of IC design talents, respectively.

For India, there are around 56,000 semiconductor design engineers employed locally. Most of whom work for subsidiaries and R&D centers established by foreign corporations. A few joined local IT companies. In 2021, Qualcomm employees in India accounted for 34% of its 45,000 global employees, making it the semiconductor supplier with the most design talents hired in India.

As for Taiwan, it has the second-largest IC design sector in the world. Taiwan's engineers are known for their high quality and dedication. In terms of quantity, they are also quite large from a global standard. They are also very cost-competitive compared to western engineers. This has attracted many foreign IC design houses and IDMs to hire Taiwanese IC design engineers, making Taiwan the four largest supply of IC design talent.

Other regions like Southeast Asia (mainly Vietnam), Israel, and Eastern Europe also have the potential to develop into IC design talent hubs. However, talent from the latter two regions is less accustomed to coming to Taiwan to work in IC design. They still give priority to international corporations when looking for jobs.

The global supply of talent from IC design-related schools is currently concentrated in the United States, China, Taiwan, and India. According to Synopsys' estimation, these four locations are also the main places of employment for IC design engineers. However, with the increasing development of IT, the complexity of chip design is also gradually increasing. Coupled with the emergence of new technologies and applications, it's expected that there will continue to be a shortage of global IC design talent until 2030.

In the US, STEM students only account for 17% of the total student population, far lower than the global average. Add to that an aging semiconductor engineer population and high turnover rate, and US companies become extremely reliant on foreign engineers coming to the US and hiring IC design talents worldwide, as seen in Qualcomm's nearly 5000 employees in China.

Although China is the largest supply region of tech graduates, it also has a lot of emerging industries like software and the internet that have job offers. Therefore, the percentage of graduates who ended up working in the IC sector is not very high. However, the US has been tightening its grip on tech sanctions. China has felt the pressure and will accelerate its push toward technology supply chain autonomy. It's expected that they will use incentives to promote the IC design sector.

Taiwan's total number of university graduates has been affected by its very low birth rate. The number of graduates in the fields of electrical engineering, electronics, and ICT could go against the trend and grow due to policy incentives. However, this increase will still be limited.

India's large population gives it the potential to continue to grow in terms of talent supply. Recently, with the whole world pursuing technology talent and India expanding its investment in the local ICT industry, the IC design talent shortage within India is also becoming more severe.

China, the US, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea dominate the global semiconductor market, and each faces a specific set of problems in IC design talent supply. For Taiwanese suppliers, the lack of international brand power and the systematic management capability of overseas locations are its main disadvantages compare to suppliers from other regions.

Editor's note: At the Taiwan IC Design Industrial Policy White Paper Presentation scheduled on March 28, Taiwan Semiconductor Industry Association (TSIA) will release its IC Design White Paper to guide Taiwan's semiconductor policy. As a co-organizer, DIGITIMES will publish a series of articles to summarize the document. The white paper will be available for download after the event.