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Asian Electronics Firms Move To Plug Education Gap

Concerned about a possible shortage of engineering talent in Asia, chipmakers are taking matters into their own hands by working with governments and universities to groom future talent.
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Concerned about a possible shortage of engineering talent in Asia, chip makers are taking matters into their own hands by working with governments and universities to groom future talent.

K.C. Yoon, managing director for assembly and test at Intel Malaysia, said in an interview that the increasingly sophisticated range of functions handled by Asian plants was changing the skill sets required by the local electronics industry.

"The demographics of the workforce have changed significantly from the past where it was predominantly operators and labor-intensive, low-cost manufacturing," Yoon said. "Now we're taking on a lot more design and development activities and the demand for engineers is higher."

Yoon said Intel saw few short-term problems meeting staff needs, but that all chip makers should be concerned about a "potential gap" as they progress up the value chain.

A looming shortage of advanced technology degree holders in many Asian countries "is an area we really need to focus on," he added.

Yoon said Intel was working closely with the Malaysian government to make it easier for potential employees to study beyond the bachelor-degree level.

Loo Cheng Cheng, Intel's regional education program manager, said Asian governments were conscious of the "increasing importance of education in terms of building a country's competitiveness."

Intel has helped train over 1 million teachers in Asia with the aim of strengthening national science and math curricula and boosting emphasis on "soft skills" such as problem-solving and communications, Loo said.

The company is also extending its links with universities and research institutes to develop engineers and advance R&D in emerging fields like nanoscale packaging and multicore chip architecture.

This approach is also being adopted by smaller foundries like Malaysia's Silterra. CEO Bruce Gray said Silterra allows students from nearby universities to test their designs in its fab. It has also partnered with a consortium of local schools to offer intern positions to engineering students.

The partnership "is good for them and good for us because we get inside a great pool of talent early, which allows us to have a much better selection of engineers," Gray said.

Intel is steadily adding staff at a new design facility in Malaysia that opened in May. Yoon said hiring for the center, which will eventually employ around 900 workers was "ongoing," with the building already over half occupied.

Yoon said the Malaysian team was working on the company's latest chip set designs, an indication of the local operation's ability to not only produce but also pilot products.

"You don't gain 30 years of experience overnight," he said. "As long as we continue to improve ourselves, the pie is big enough to cater to everybody. [Intel] is very sensitive about business risk, and we can't have everything produced out of one country."

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