Chinese Students Say Chipmaking Is ‘Too Hard and Not That Well-Paid’

With the US restricting China’s access to advanced chip technology, the Chinese government wants to become self-sufficient in chip manufacturing, but it faces a serious talent shortage.

As the South China Morning Post reports(Opens in a new window), while the government may be eager to bolster the local semiconductor industry, students in China aren’t really that interested. According to Chen Ying, a partner at Huike Edutech which helps students find placements in different industry sectors, there’s little desire to focus on processor manufacturing.

When asked why, Chen said, “They may feel the job is too hard and not that well-paid.”

That’s not to say students in China aren’t interested in entering the tech industry, but Chen explains the focus is on finding work in AI and big data because there are clearer career prospects. It doesn’t help that China is far behind in terms of chip manufacturing and electronics design automation (EDA) software compared to other countries. Chen said, “The gap may be as wide as one or two generations, when it comes to EDA software and production.”

China is therefore facing two major problems: a lack of future talent and a local industry that’s a couple of generations behind in terms of technological prowess. The talent shortage is a problem that’s only set to get worse over the coming years, with the China Semiconductor Industry Association (CSIA) predicting a shortfall of 200,000 people for 2022-23. Add to that the fact less than 15% of graduates majoring in integrated circuits (IC) in 2020 decided to work in the field.

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China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology made IC a “first-level discipline” for graduate doctorate studies in 2021, and at least 12 Chinese universities have a school dedicated to IC studies. However, according to undergraduates, the teaching on offer is out of date. One student at PKU’s School of Integrated Circuits said, “the knowledge taught in the class is 15 or 20 years behind” when learning about manufacturing. That same student said a degree in IC leads to “a low-tech or low-income job.”

China’s access to advanced chip manufacturing technology is only set to get worse based on the actions of the US government. The CHIPS Act bans firms from building fabs in China for 10 years, meaning fewer jobs will be available there working with foreign advanced technology as well. It’s therefore unclear how the Chinese government can turn this around, but also a clear sign of why the chip-manufacturing capital of the world: Taiwan, is becoming such a keen focus.

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