Human Resources for Semiconductors: Develop Local Universities as Sites for Fostering Skilled Workers

Human resource development has become a major challenge as new semiconductor factories are built one after another in Japan. Collaboration must be strengthened between industry, government and academia, with universities and other local educational institutions playing a core role.

Semiconductor chips are used in a variety of industrial products, including automobiles and home appliances, and are a crucial item that determines industrial competitiveness. As the economy recovers after the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a global shortage of semiconductors, which has hampered automobile production in many countries.

Stable procurement of the chips is also essential from the perspective of economic security. Production bases for advanced semiconductors are concentrated in Taiwan, but European countries and the United States have recently been competing to attract factories to their countries. Japan should also strengthen the foundation of its semiconductor industry.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), the world’s leading contract semiconductor manufacturer, has established its first Japanese plant in Kikuyo, Kumamoto Prefecture, and will begin mass production by the end of this year. The company has decided to also build its second Japanese factory.

Rapidus Corp., a new firm funded by private companies in Japan that aims to produce cutting-edge semiconductors in Japan, is constructing a plant in Chitose, Hokkaido, with mass production expected to start in 2027.

However, even if these plants are developed, reviving the nation’s industry will not be easy unless sufficient human resources for research and development along with production can be secured. An electronics industry organization estimates that major manufacturers will need at least an additional 40,000 workers over the next 10 years.

Universities are the key to human resource development. Kyushu University signed a memorandum of understanding with TSMC this month for a plan that offers lectures taught by TSMC employees and provides student internships at TSMC’s Taiwan base.

Kumamoto University will also receive scholarships and lectures for the university’s students from TSMC and promote joint research.

In the Tohoku region, another future location of a Taiwanese company’s semiconductor plant, the industrial and public sectors along with academic organizations are also working to develop human resources.

In many cases, manufacturing plants are built in rural areas and support the local economy. The collaboration between semiconductor companies and universities in the nearby areas is of great significance. The regions should become a center for human resource development, including the kosen institutes of technology.

It is important to convey to students the significance of the semiconductor industry, which produces items indispensable for industrial products. It is also crucial to emphasize that manufacturing is the backbone of the economy.

Japan’s semiconductor industry was once the world’s best, but as its international competitiveness declined, the industry underwent repeated downsizing and its human resources were lost to overseas companies and other industries.

Efforts must be made to bring back these skilled workers and pass on the technology to the next generation. Companies should reaffirm their commitment to respecting engineers, including improving their working conditions.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 22, 2024)