Dr. Suraj Rengarajan joined Applied Materials in 1997, holding various roles in process engineering, technology, program management, and product marketing. His expertise spans thin film deposition, metallization, interconnecting silicides, and novel memories. In 2007, he established the Applied Materials Solar Group in India and later led the engineering division in dielectric deposition.
The semiconductor industry has been a critical part of the global economy and is expected to double in size to around $1 trillion. The Indian consumption of semiconductors itself is expected to cross $110 billion by 2030. Semiconductors were one of the main topics during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to the United States, and the agreements have created a path for India to become a semiconductor player.
As semiconductor industry growth accelerates, one of the biggest gaps is the availability of a skilled workforce. This becomes even more crucial for India. India has a large pool of semiconductor design talent, being the home of over 200 design companies. However, India still needs to develop a talent pipeline for manufacturing to have a sustainable semiconductor ecosystem.
Fostering an Ecosystem with Required Knowledge
India is well positioned to meet the growing global demand for the semiconductor industry, with its unique demographic advantage of a younger workforce and a large pool of skilled engineers. The Indian government, industry, and academia have recognized this critical aspect and are placing great emphasis on technical collaboration to train the workforce to meet this demand.
Many initiatives have sprung up in this regard. In February 2023, the All-India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) initiated two specialized chipmaking training programs. These initiatives aim to contribute to Prime Minister Modi's ambitious objective of training 85,000 semiconductor professionals by 2032. The India Electronics and Semiconductor Association (IESA) has announced an initiative to reach out to eligible candidates, nurturing them and connecting them to prospective employers.
The Electronics Skill Council (ESSCI) has a very comprehensive set of skills from the vocational stage that addresses the needs of the semiconductor industry from design to manufacturing. ESSCI’s India Semiconductor Committee (the equivalent of SEMI’s American Semiconductor Academy) leverages its MOU with SEMI University and ELCINA to shape globally compatible, industry-relevant skills. ELCINA also leverages content from NPTEL and Purdue University, which has entered into an agreement with the government of India to advance workforce development, research and development, and industry partnerships in semiconductors. Moreover, ELCINA’s tiered certification model leverages labs and industry infrastructure in the Indian context to deliver hands-on trainings to supplement theories in line with unique skill checklists.
Different Levels of Skilling and R&D
Skilling occurs at various stages. The first level involves Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs), which play a crucial role in supplying a skilled workforce to the manufacturing sector. Incorporating skills related to courses in semiconductors, consumer electronics, IT hardware, PCB design, industrial automation electronics, packaging, and semiconductors addresses the industry's manpower requirements.
The subsequent level encompasses undergraduate students, where semiconductors are occasionally included in electronics studies. Diplomas and certifications, along with hands-on training in chip design, architecture, and chip/component testing, form part of this stage. Many institutions have expanded their curriculum to offer such courses, and they have garnered increased interest. Integrating insights from semiconductor courses offered by U.S. universities like Arizona State University, Purdue University, and the State University of New York (SUNY) as Indian universities venture into this field is highly beneficial. These courses must also collaborate with the industry to ensure that training and curricula remain relevant to industry needs.
Masters and advanced degrees necessitate close collaboration with the industry. To succeed, strategic selection of R&D areas and the establishment of appropriate capabilities and infrastructure are vital to striking a balance between academic goals and industry requirements. Gaining experience in a semiconductor clean room environment is also a valuable outcome of this investment. The SemiX6 initiative by IIT Bombay serves as an excellent example of such collaboration, fostering semiconductor-focused R&D, workforce development, and entrepreneurship by uniting academia, industry, and government efforts. Additionally, IIScCeNSE is launching an M.Tech. program in Semiconductor Technology in August 2023, while IIT Madras has partnered with Purdue University for a dual-degree program in semiconductors.
Academic collaboration is pivotal for driving indigenous research and development (R&D) in the semiconductor industry. Collaborations between academia and industry can facilitate the development of innovations tailored to global and domestic requirements. These partnerships enable the exchange of knowledge, resources, and funding, essential for high-quality research. Establishing semiconductor clusters and R&D centers similar to those in Taiwan, where close collaboration exists between Taiwanese semiconductor companies (e.g., Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, TSMC), research institutes (e.g., Industrial Technology Research Institute, ITRI), and major universities, is crucial for India's semiconductor sector.
By collaborating with universities and research institutes, the industry not only gains access to a talent pipeline but also to joint researcha programs, research fellowships, internships, and high-value projects. Such partnerships promote skill development and provide students with valuable industry exposure. Moreover, these collaborations facilitate the seamless transfer of knowledge, tools, and resources between academia and industry, creating a symbiotic connection that supports the semiconductor sector's growth and addresses practical needs. An excellent illustration of this synergy is the recent relaunch of a short-term course on semiconductor technology and manufacturing by SemiX, in partnership with Applied Materials and Global Foundries. This course blends academic semiconductor concepts with fundamental hardware and system technologies and is delivered by both academia and industry experts. This approach enhances students' understanding of semiconductor technology, challenges, and IC fabrication techniques.
A professional workforce with knowledge in areas such as design, fabrication, testing, and packaging is needed in the semiconductor sector. To create a curriculum that is applicable to the industry, India needs to set up research centers, offer training programs, and encourage collaboration between academic institutions and the private sector. This will foster the development of local talent in the semiconductor industry and contribute to the creation of a constant supply of skilled workers. Many Indian institutes have already introduced various programs in association with global experts to develop a talent pool around semiconductor technology.
As semiconductors ramp up in India, I am sure that many more will launch their own initiatives. This will hopefully bridge the gap between industry know-how and academic curriculum, providing the impetus to build the required skill sets for the Indian workforce. As India pushes towards building a strong semiconductor industry, a skilled talent pool, strategic partnerships, and the government's unwavering support are key ingredients for success.