Arm launches Semiconductor Education Alliance to fight the world’s tech talent shortage

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Arm and its industry partners have announced a new global initiative dubbed the Semiconductor Education Alliance.

The effort includes partners across industry, academia and research in an effort to combat the world’s shortage of semiconductor engineers and other tech talent, Gary Campbell, executive vice president of central engineering at Arm, said in an interview with VentureBeat.

The alliance partners include Anglia Ruskin University, Arduino, Cadence, Cornell University, IIT Jodhpur, STMicroelectronics, Synopsys, Taiwan Semiconductor Research Institute, the All-India Council for Technical Education, the Semiconductor Research Corporation, the Semiconductor Industry Alliance, the University of Southampton, UK Electronics Skills Foundation and Universitat Politècnica de València.

Members of the Semiconductor Education Alliance.

The alliance will build the next generation of semiconductor talent by bringing together key stakeholders in the skills sector to address the growing demand for more skills and talent.

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“The semiconductors industry’s global strategic importance, talent, technology is more widely understood than ever before, resulting in greater attention from the entire supply chain,” said Campbell. “There’s a major opportunity for growth and innovation, but the availability of a bright skills in the workforce is a significant barrier to progress moving forward. No one player can solve these challenges in isolation, so new levels of collaboration are required.”

Governments around the world are allocating billions of dollars of investment through major initiatives such as the U.S. and E.U. CHIPS Acts. That money is pouring into subsidies for chip factories, design and equipment. But the availability of skilled workers could be a significant barrier to progress, Campbell said.

Gary Campbell is an executive vice president for central engineering at Arm.

This week, the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), in partnership with Oxford Economics, released a study finding the United States faces a significant shortage of technicians, computer scientists, and engineers, with a projected shortfall of 67,000 of these workers in the semiconductor industry by 2030 and a gap of 1.4 million such workers throughout the broader U.S. economy.

The report, titled “Chipping Away: Assessing and Addressing the Labor Market Gap Facing the U.S. Semiconductor Industry,” also makes a set of policy recommendations to help close the talent gap and complement the workforce development initiatives that are already being carried out by semiconductor companies across the U.S.

The Semiconductor Education Alliance is global.

“We believe the answer lies in stronger cross-industry/academia collaboration,” he said.

To ensure these challenges don’t hinder industry growth at this critical time, the alliance is urging anyone with contributions to make to the semiconductor skills pipeline to get involved. Bringing the semiconductor and academic worlds together to build new accelerated educational pathways.

The alliance brings together several existing partnerships and workstreams from Arm and the wider
industry and aims to create and build new ones. Deliverables will include competency frameworks
tailored to the industry needs of specific geographies, and accelerated educational and training
pathways, resources, and services that will help to build and support future talent pools.

Arm said the alliance is an evolution of an existing education model in which Arm will play a vital
coordination role. Community members will share resources, capabilities, and expertise in a flexible,
federated and open model through a variety of forums.

This will give teachers, researchers, aspiring or practicing engineers, and learners easier access to critical resources and unlock new opportunities to collaborate on projects such as joint bids for research grants.

The Semiconductor Education Alliance is still enrolling members.

A number of projects are already in the works, for example:

  • Arm, along with EDA partners, is working on new chip design educational resources using state-of-the-art electronic design automation (EDA) tools and intellectual property.
  • New distance learning solutions in computer engineering and informatics are being developed from Arm and partners in industry and academia.
  • A global system-on-chip (SoC) design platform for academia with access to the latest semiconductor fabrication technologies from Arm and partners.

Diversity is critical

The global education effort will span places that don't have chip companies now.
The global education effort will span places that don’t have chip companies now.

Like in so many other areas of talent and education, diversity is critical, Campbell said. To bring further diversity of talent into the industry, the alliance is committed to growing and supporting multiple routes into semiconductor careers, such as technical, vocational and self-study pathways.

To achieve this, a key pillar of the alliance’s approach is to allow the flexibility to engage in a variety of ways, making the industry accessible to a broad range of diverse individuals, regardless of their prior education or experience.

Members of the alliance will create new opportunities for learners to gain hands-on experience through internships, apprenticeships, and co-op placements, as well as distance learning tracks on massive open online course (MOOC) platforms, where access is offered free to learners regardless of their financial means or geographic location.

Why now?

The chip industry needs more people to keep growing and innovating.

Campbell said you may ask why this work happening already. It’s true that many industry players
have robust, high quality educational programs that offer state of the art content, tools and services.

Indeed, Arm has a university program that reaches hundreds of thousands of students globally. But the company believes the industry is at a tipping point when it comes to the skills gap, and more cohesive, industry-wide action is required to truly have an impact.

The Semiconductor Education Alliance aims to better align the industry around common goals, shared resources, and communities of best practice to tackle the skills gap that threatens progress today.

Arm posted supporting quotes from many partners here.

“We’re bringing together key stakeholders in the skill sector to address the growing demand mismatch, both in the basic supply of talent itself and reskilling and upskilling of existing workforces,” Campbell said. “So this goes right from sort of grassroots education all the way through to skilled workforces.”

The AI job threat

On top of that, Campbell said that the rise of AI and internet of things (IoT) technologies will also complicate the skills problem by eliminating a lot of jobs in the market as well as creating jobs in new areas.

“This adds a dynamic into the workforce. There is a gap in computer engineering and STEM knowledge and that skills gap is is growing,” Campbell said.

The result will be huge challenges for education and training in the future.

“Individual efforts are no longer enough. So there’s lots of organizations such as Arm around the globe that are doing fantastic work in terms of engaging with academia and engaging with developing talent pipelines,” Campbell said. “But by combining our forces, we can have a multiplying effect where we can scale this faster at a bigger rate. So that’s why we’re doing this.”

Recruiting the whole ecoystem

Arm itself is used in 250 billion chips in what has become a huge computing ecosystem. About 70% of the world’s population uses products and services powered by Arm technology. Arm has 650-plus active licensees, growing by 50 or more each year.

“So we’re in a unique position to where we have lots of touch points across the industry, which we can leverage to make this this new initiative successful,” Campbell said.

Khaled Benkrid, senior director of education and research at Arm, said in an interview that the alliance is a global federated community with a shared purpose and shared resources.

“We want to go to the source and look at schools and K-12 education,” Benkrid said. “We enable educators, researchers and learners to harness the latest technologies from our partner ecosystem so that they can learn, innovate and compete effectively in the modern economy. It’s not just about producing engineers. Of course, that is important, but it’s also about educating people so that they can interact with technology, no matter what their trade is.”

More partners are coming on board every week, Benkrid said. Each one is different. Arduino has a long history of developing platforms and tools for hobbyists and educators, especially at the school level, he said.

“And we are working together to embed computer engineering skills into the classrooms aligning with the curriculum, so that it gets embedded and stays there rather than working outside of the system,” Benkrid said. “We are collaborating in particularly in the U.K. and U.S. to create communities of practice of teachers so that they can support each other and share best practice among themselves.”

Competing interests

I asked how the alliance will deal with competition, as tech companies often prefer to train university students in how to use their tech tools, rather than their competitors.

“That’s brilliant. So as an academic myself, the way we approach it this way,” Campbell said. “We work with the curriculum so we don’t teach a particular technology. We teach embedded system design. And we teach the principles when it comes to demonstrating the principles we use. But a lot of the curriculum is about foundational knowledge and technologies.”

As for the shortage, Campbell agrees it’s clear that we have one.

“We want to plug this gap and we are working towards various engagements to do that. But only if we continue on the same trajectory. What we’re finding is that technology as well is moving at a fast pace, and so if you look at AI or IoT technologies, the nature of the jobs are changing. And so we need to develop a dynamic system whereby we learn about the changes and feed that into the curricula much more quickly than we did before.”

The program won’t just be in places where the world currently has semiconductor companies. It will engage in places like Africa and Latin America, so that talent can develop anywhere, Campbell said.

“Our interventions actually impactful even in areas where the semiconductor industry is not flourishing,” he said.

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