A. I would categorise semicon manufacturing into different sectors for ease of understanding, and each one is an individual unit on its own. These are:
India is a hub of the semiconductor design industry having well-established R&D and design centres for VLSI design, board design, and embedded software companies. Major players across the world have their R&D and design centres in India. However, raw wafer manufacturing and crystal growth are yet to be established. For fabs, the investment is huge and return on investment (ROI) takes a long time, whereas packaging lines are more flexible and easier to set up as compared to fabs. To be self-reliant, India will need wafer manufacturing, assembly, and testing facilities.
Q. What do you think about the type of jobs and skillsets that will be in demand if semicon manufacturing picks up?
A. Semiconductor manufacturing needs a wide range of skillsets when we see at a macro level. It has the potential to generate a huge market for jobs in both skilled and unskilled fields. It could target youth from rural areas to scientists, designers, researchers, process developers, quality control, utilities, and facilities experts. The industry needs different levels of workforce for production, including shop-floor assistants, helpers, warehouse management, security, etc.
Apart from the production related skills, there are other add-ons and supporting clusters of industries which grow when any other production unit grows, such as suppliers of raw materials, chemicals, high purity gases, gas handling systems, water handling equipment, electricity, cleanrooms, related furniture, pollution control, disposal systems, chemical treatment plants, environment controlled facilities, certification bodies, which will require both Indian and overseas products and expertise.
Q. Do we have courses or curriculum that gives on-hand training before getting to the job?
A. As I understand, we do not find a defined curriculum, particularly on microelectronics, including semiconductor technology in detail, at undergraduate levels in most universities. Premier institutes, such as IITs and IISc, have well-established labs where students have exposure. Some of the labs at premier institutes include labs for basic electronics, microelectromechanical (MEMS) systems, microelectronics, VLSI engineering, MEMS and microsystems, microwave and millimeter-wave circuits, nanofabrication, nanophotonics, nanoscale optoelectronics, semiconductor devices and circuits, which gives the students preliminary understanding of the subjects.
We do see a few chapters on VLSI designing and semiconductor devices, but complete process and know-how of semiconductor manufacturing and fabrication are not available at graduation levels. As I have seen in my experience in this area, most of the training is on-the-job. Since this is a high-tech industry, it takes six to nine months before an
engineer can understand the processes and can speak about them.
Q. Any advice for institutions wanting to prepare themselves, including their faculty, curriculum, and students for this industry?
A. There is a widening gap between the nature of jobs and active candidates with the skills. There is always a need for skilled and talented early-career professionals. Being in a high-end technology area, my suggestion for institutions would be to consider setting up small labs where institutions can have in-house facilities with manual or semi-automatic systems for students to have practical experience. The upcoming manufacturing units will need nine to twelve months of facility readiness; by this time the candidates can be prepared as per the requirement by giving them on-the-job training, which will help the industry and candidates both.
Consider experts from the industry for guest lectures, seminars, conferences, and workshops. We have a ‘gold mine’ of these from premier institutes in India. The institutes can have curriculum to develop skills that are in high demand from the semiconductor industry. They can be at graduation, masters, and doctorate levels with PhDs and also non-thesis programmes.
Independent institutes can have a dedicated certification course, which will benefit by bringing both candidates and companies closer to each other. The companies can find the right candidates and candidates can learn what the companies require.
For the final years, we can look for something like ‘Enthusiastic Fresh Resources’ available with incentives in form of scholarships to increase their ability to understand the subject and take it to the industry. The industry can thus save time by having a quick induction programme.
Another important point I would like to touch upon is the curriculum. It should be designed with the help of industry experts to streamline the subjects of study, which will benefit these industries. Exposure to basic knowledge and practical training from the start to the end of the fabrication process will help both students and the industry. Additionally, faculty development programmes can be conducted by industry experts. Some universities and industries can look at special awards and recognition for the professors’ efforts to help address pressing engineering and supply-chain challenges as well as attract and retain top local talent.
In recent times, we do see many academic institutes and industries coming together to bridge this gap and tying up with the industry so that students can have practical training and are industry-ready. This is a good starting point for India as we move forward in semiconductor manufacturing. We need several more to bridge this gap.