back to article School for semiconductors? Arm tries to address chip talent shortages

Chip designer Arm is looking to address the shortage of vital skills in the semiconductor industry with an initiative that aims to help find the next generation of talent and upskill the existing workforce. The global initiative – the Semiconductor Education Alliance (SEA) – brings together a bunch of like-minded companies …

  1. Tron Silver badge

    But surely, technology is the most dangerous thing ever.

    It must be, because every day the BBC run scare stories on it. How AI will end humanity and how the internet connects kids with perverts.

    For decades, they have informed parents of the dangers of technology, hackers, malware, the internet, computing, porn, apps that threaten national security, bullying, fake news, and numerous social media horrors. Every day of every week of every year, an endless litany of dangers.

    And you want parents to allow their kids to get involved in all this? Are you completely mad? Surely any parent who cares about their child would steer them away from the toxic horror show that is digital technology.

    Demonise something repeatedly, and it becomes difficult to promote it as a career.

    1. FlamingDeath Silver badge

      Re: But surely, technology is the most dangerous thing ever.

      Stop reading / watching legacy media

      Problem solved

      You do know their target audience are idiots that have about as much discernment ability as the dirt under your feet.

      This might surprise you, their aim is not to inform you

      Their aim is to influence you

      It always has been, and always will be, their sole aim

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: But surely, technology is the most dangerous thing ever.

        "Stop reading / watching legacy media"

        So the new media aren't trying to influence you? I suppose it depends what you mean by "legacy media" but I suspect I'd either disagree with your classification or I'd disagree with you on their toxicity compared with non-legacy media.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: But surely, technology is the most dangerous thing ever.

          Well this whole ARM thing is ultimately the BBC's fault anyway

        2. FlamingDeath Silver badge

          Re: But surely, technology is the most dangerous thing ever.

          I thought the legacy media label was a well understood term.

          Allow me to clarify

          if they’re on the TV and have regular bulletins, broadcast at certain schedules every day without fail, and all wear business attire and read from an autocue.

          That’s the legacy media

          They’re easy to spot because they’re alway lying

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: But surely, technology is the most dangerous thing ever.

            "They’re easy to spot because they’re always lying"

            Well that narrows it down!

      2. NeilPost Silver badge

        Re: But surely, technology is the most dangerous thing ever.

        Aaah a GB News viewer. They certainly aren’t trying to influence you.

        1. FlamingDeath Silver badge

          Re: But surely, technology is the most dangerous thing ever.

          GB news is legacy media too, and while I might have diverse sources of information, I do not subscribe to every word that utters out of peoples mouths. I engage the brain, assess what is presented and make my own mind up.

          I feel like your response comes from someone who is hurt, was it me that hurt you, did I challenge your world view?

          If so, good

          “Everything is a rich mans trick”

          Great documentary BTW, you should look it up

    2. CrackedNoggin Bronze badge

      Re: But surely, technology is the most dangerous thing ever.

      About half of your topics are related to social media. Social media focuses on the bad side of social media. No Surprise.

  2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Exactly what workers do ARM need? Machines make the actual chips, feed the chips out of the machine into packages, put them into boxes ready to go into the delivery lorries. Before that point the human part is designing an instruction set architechture and putting the specification into the machines. But once that's been done, it's been done. Custom builds of ARM plus SomethingElse? Well, I thought the whole point of the ARM license was that the *customer* did that bit, specifying the SomethingElse they wanted on their custom ARM chip build. So, exactly what human workers are ARM actually after?

    And as for "the skills shortage". Try lifting your nose out of the "yuuf" trough. There are loads of people in their 40s, 50s, 60s with the skills.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      OTOH The US is having development of a plant put on hold due to shortage of skilled labour. Not my area but I'd guess the skill shortages include preparation of masks, adjustment of the machines and handling of various nasty chemicals involved. I'm sure others here could add to and correct that list.

      One thing you omitted to mention is wafer manufacture. There will be a whole lot of specialist skills involved in that.

      These are skills of which there are probably not many holders at any age level. I doubt anyone holding them will be unable to get a job at any age but it's not surprising that that they want to concentrate training on those who are likely to use them for longest.

      1. martinusher Silver badge

        To be fair, the plant is located in the Phoenix area, the part of the US that's just notched up 30 days with the daily high temperature exceeding 110F. Corporate America has a 'thing' about this area, it might be tax breaks or whatever but based on personal knowledge of people who've been 'invited' to relocate there -- "not a chance". (The one individual who did seems to have regretted their decision -- expensive housing, lousy name it...)

        The days when you could just open a plant and people would flock to it are long gone. The package has to be attractive.

    2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      "Before that point the human part is designing an instruction set architecture and putting the specification into the machines."

      Sounds like ARM might need people for that then. Co-incidentally, it sounds like those are the skills they are trying to foster in the wider education system.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Sounds like ARM might need their customers to be able to hire people to make chips.

    3. pimppetgaeghsr Bronze badge

      They have burned bridges in the UK after their PTUG program put many interns out to pasture and they stopped showing up to careers fairs in universities, even Cambridge where their HQ is according to Linkedin posts. ARM is bloated with managers that haven't a clue on technology and what they now have using Steve Jobs terms "bozos" and "managers managing managers". It seems ARM has now achieved their lifelong ambition (or was it Acorns?) to be the "next IBM"

      They need cheap docile labour to run their regressions and push buttons since hiring talent would put those managers jobs under threat (six figure salaries in engineering is considered sacrilege in ARM). People like Mr Campbell have been fortunate to be at the right place at the right time to get to a position within a successful firm and ensured they are surrounded by loyal lackeys. They also need UK talent to keep their jobs safe and fill in the gap that Brexit left with EU talent reulctant to come to the UK. Even people from India don't really want to come to the UK anymore once they research salaries, culture and cost of living in Cambridge. It's all part of a wider problem for the UK as decades of stagant wages and insane living costs has made it a miserable place to move to especially if your family is 12 hours away.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        It's not new. IBM wanted to build their European research center in Cambridge in the 60s - but the council thought it would bring grubby induxtry to the town and lead to more traffic - so IBM concentrated its Noble prize winning in Zurich

        1. pimppetgaeghsr Bronze badge

          Perhaps in those days the council weren't all local landlords. They'd lick their lips at another campus of glass offices these days.

    4. pimppetgaeghsr Bronze badge

      There is been a significant drop in talent going into semiconductors and preferring the resonable salaries and packages in software instead. When the whole industry is commoditised and has chronic skill shortages you cannot hire at replacement levels.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Exactly what workers do ARM need? Machines make the actual chips, feed the chips out of the machine into packages, put them into boxes ready to go into the delivery lorries."

      Wow. The depths of your lack-of-knowledge in semiconductors and ASIC design is so ...

      ... British.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I don't think anyone on the forum has properly answered this question.

      And I agree 100% that there are loads of people who could do the job. Machines do most of the work. Its not difficult to wear a suit and mask and push buttons.

      As a graduate of Laser Physiics and Semiconductors let me tell you why no-one wants to work in this area.

      Doing a degree takes a couple of years. At the beginning of my degree we had Cwm Silicon in Wales, Silicon Glen in Scotland and Silicon Lincolnshire and various other small sites around England.

      After finishing my degree and seeing the demise of the Cwm, Glen and the change of hands from large known companies to unknown ones, a career in semiconductors looked pretty bleak. From someone who has the cultural and historical baggage of 70s industrial strikes, 80s downturns and then the 90s uncertainties, an engineering job in this market area looked like a fairly stupid move. Even if you did do it, you'd have low wages, a crappy area in the UK or abroad to work in and limited career/job options. You'd be constantly moving around to stay ahead.

      Thankfully I did a bit of computing, networking and programming so I chose IT and never looked back.

      If I was to give advice to anyone thinking of a job in semiconductors, I'd first ask, how much stability do you want in life and then go from there.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I've worked in semiconductors for +20 years and am on 6 figures. So you might have been doing it wrong. Mostly because you stayed in the UK, I would suggest?

      2. BOFH in Training

        Your experience seems pretty specific to the UK.

        I think if you were interested in moving out of the UK, the outlook would have been better.

        But that would also have been brain drain that the UK can ill afford.

  3. Ashto5 Bronze badge

    About time

    Stop out sourcing and start up skilling.

    1. pimppetgaeghsr Bronze badge

      Re: About time

      They have lost loads of talented people fed up with the culture and reduction in benefits. Their solution is to not become competitive again but just try and flood the graduate application pages with cheap graduates ready to do menial work. It's the same cycle and race to the bottom IBM and Intel came first place in back in the 90s and the 2010s. Arm will win the race in the 2020s for sure.

  4. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    How about

    and this is a completely radical idea

    Paying for people to be trained up.... like the 30K it costs to do a 3yr university course here, or putting money into skilled trade colleges , again so it does'nt cost anything to get trained. maybe even wages too while training so that someone can change jobs, get trained and not have to worry about if they can pay the rent while training up for 2+ yrs.

    Nope sory far too radical, lets go back to the tried and trusted H1B visa system (or whatever temp work visas are called in your country) and abuse that

    1. Roo

      Re: How about

      You need to pay them a competitive salary when you've trained them up too, expecting folks to accept an average wage for practicing a rare and valuable skill when they can get paid more as a common or garden sparky isn't going to fly.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: How about

        Retraining from electronics engineer with a half dozen chip designs under the belt, to sparky , myself.

        In a world about to retool to use old fashioned electricity to power everything, and the power electrical guys graduated in the '80's, I expect to make a killing.

  5. Andy 73 Silver badge

    Everything is software

    It's slightly ironic that the big ARM success story in education, the Raspberry Pi, rather abstracts the hardware problem and turns everything into software.

    Someone was recently telling me how the first step on any Pi project they undertake is to install Docker..

    Equally most universities in the UK talk a lot about high level design, but treat actually manufacturing the parts as someone else's problem. The few who do undertake chip design will send the work to a fab overseas and wait for the thing to be mailed back to them...

    1. CrackedNoggin Bronze badge

      Re: Everything is software

      Docker on the PI or on the computer they are using for development?

      1. Andy 73 Silver badge

        Re: Everything is software

        Docker on the Pi.

  6. bonkers

    How does one train the necessary chip designers?

    There's no doubt we need more chip designers. The problem is that it is so complicated now that it can't be taught effectively, with real examples. at undergraduate level.

    The toolchain handles too much - students need to understand how and why the tools do what they do, first. We need to know "basic woodwork" before programming CNC machines to do it all automatically.

    I just propose that simpler, earlier toolchains should be freely available - and ARM could help in this, by open-sourcing a 1990's toolchain so that it is as easy to use as LTSpice for example. The support community then grows itself.

    For real actual chips, I suggest the tools are configured to produce working designs on some sort of "baby process" - like 4um design rule in polysilicon, or maybe the Sedgefield IGZO lot? [Blair's constituency, heh...] - they claim to tape-out in 24 hours not 24 weeks and with zero mask cost. (I'm not associated, never met them, link is below)

    IGZO only runs at 30kHz or so - but great, you don't need $$ 20GHz scopes to debug your IC, and you can have several goes at it, make those rookie mistakes, and get it all done in one term [semester].

    Apparently IGZO can make 32-bit ARM cortex cores [] - these designs are big enough to introduce all sorts of necessary further constraints and hierarchical approaches. I don't think yield is so good at this level, I'd start with small well-documented 8-bit RISC cores, peripherals, to learn from their simplicity.

    There's nothing like learning from the ground up, like most [all?] previous chip designers. You can then debug a design right down to bare metal - an engineer's understanding, right down to the physics.

    The new skill is to take all that, to allow it to be totally automated, abstracted, and yet still keep it under control. I can't do that, and greatly respect those that somehow can.

    A low cost "primer" process with primitive tools would be an excellent hands-on teaching approach, showing directly what tasks are tedious and can be automated, once fully understood.

    We all started with stacking cups as toddlers and I don't think we can miss-out any of the subsequent, practical steps - we need our towers to fall down, to make real things that either really work or really don't.

    Only then do we learn the value of simulation tools, test vectors, redundancy strategies, emergency reconfigurability options - that can avoid embarrassment.

  7. FlamingDeath Silver badge

    Gee wizz, a country that fails to invest in the future by providing education to it’s young population, then wonders why they can’t have fancy shiny chip fabrication plants.

    Maybe more lessons and less indoctrination, maybe?

    1. RegGuy1 Silver badge

      That's ok, we don't need any more development, I've got my house (no mortgage -- I bought it cheap in the 1980s).

      Oy! You with the bulldozer. Fuck off. Get it off that field -- that's my view.

  8. FlamingDeath Silver badge

    No money for education

    Lots of money for wars and despotism

    You get what you allow

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The problem is at the higher end, not lower..

    Could write an essay/paper on this. Without going into detail with regards to the who told me etc., it is someone who invented some of this stuff, but there is a shortage of low level assembler coders in FAANG companies (this was from the horse's mouth from two of them), problem being that most universities have dropped this decades ago. The latter is quite rational, as the opportunities are few and far between. Why they struggle to recruit is because they are only really looking at the top university graduates in computing, that's world top 50-ish and some of the Russel Group in the UK, I should know, I've literally taught low level coding at such a university, but a chip manufacturer wouldn't give me a job (ironically would have paid less), because I was missing the Russel Group university degree I know they want, decades of experiences counts for little in such a stratum.

    As for schools and colleges, the situation is quite dire, with the removal of course works for GCSE's you'll find most, but not all, high school teachers can't code, as they don't need to, and were never taught it themselves, I know this first hand as I worked with school teachers and saw this upfront. A-Level computer science returned, but most colleges don't offer it, as they don't have the teachers for it and the GCSE barely offers any coverage of what lies ahead in the A-levels, so your first year undergrad has to cover what the A-level covers, thought the A-level is so hard that the marks required to get an A grade are below most other subjects; there is just far far too much in it. Yes the gov paid a good amount for me to train as a teacher, but after a few years of teaching and lecturing, I gave up, too much work, too cliquey, went back to being a dev again with more money to boot, phew. Though I still get called in to discharge teaching duties, on, yes, you guessed it, undergrad assembler courses. Conversely, I knew an electronics background PhD, couldn't get a job, did a PGCE, and now works in higher education, and is still there.

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