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Equitable Hiring In a Talent Shortage

Philip MatthesWith investments in the hundreds of billions of dollars announced in the United States, the semiconductor industry is entering an unprecedented growth phase. We are only beginning to understand the complexity of competing for scarce resources like raw materials, construction equipment and machinery. Underscored by a slew of stories on The Great Resignation, the talent shortage is quickly climbing to the top of this risk list.

The talent challenge is here to stay

The war for talent isn’t just a result of the pandemic. A Deloitte-SEMI survey indicates that 77% of executives identified the talent shortage as early as 2017. COVID has worsened this problem and it has reached crisis proportions. In the U.S. alone, up to 300,000 workers will have to be added by 2025 (up from 2020 levels) to staff new semiconductor facilities born from a new wave of government and private sector investments. Declining interest in chip manufacturing careers among recent college graduates exacerbates the challenge.

Worse still, enrollment in STEM curriculum is falling. According to one study, 31,000 academic degrees were awarded in electrical engineering in 2019, down 1.9% from 2018. The good news is that there is a tremendous opportunity for people without degrees or related industry experience to enter the semiconductor workforce. Many entry-level positions are in high demand, and companies are competing for talent on the production floor.

With these considerable challenges for the semiconductor industry to overcome, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) efforts might be seen as another complicating factor in filling positions. At EMD Electronics, we strongly believe that DE&I efforts are part of the solution and here is why: Only if we embrace people of all gender identities, generations, ethnicities, educational and industry backgrounds, and sexual orientations, to name just a few demographics, will we stand a chance to fill the talent pipelines needed for the semiconductor industry to seize its outstanding growth prospects. This will be a marathon, but it will be worth it.

DE&I as a cornerstone of the talent solution

Like many other complex challenges today, there is no silver bullet to address talent scarcity and DE&I. So at EMD Electronics, we have narrowed our focus to addressing diverse groups beyond the traditional talent pools and building an inclusive culture to ensure diverse people can thrive.

Maximize outreach with diversity in mind

The importance of employer branding in reaching out to prospective employees is hardly news. Nonetheless, it is important that employer brands is as inclusive as possible to help them grow their talent pool. When we launched our Electronics brand in April 2021, we did exactly this by expanding our reach with DE&I as a key focus and encouraging all employees to bring their “authentic self to work each day!”

OutreachBut the semiconductor industry’s DE&I initiatives must extend well beyond efforts by individual companies. That’s why SEMI’s partnership with the Manufacturing Institute’s Heroes MAKE America (HMA) program is so important. HMA connects people transitioning out of the military to semiconductor industry careers, an example of how, as an industry, we should be offering other similar platforms to expand our reach.

The current wave of news coverage of the semiconductor industry is a unique window of opportunity to increase awareness of career opportunities across more demographic groups. Courting non-traditional groups, including high school graduates, to fill semiconductor roles will require the industry to reimagine its onboarding and training practices, increase its commitment to inclusion, and develop new ways to reach more job candidates. The German dual education system, which combines work with on- and off-the-job training, is one such solution. If, as in industry, we are successful in broadening our reach, we can access new talent pools.

Manage an inclusive and equitable culture

Recruiting diverse talent is important, but the key to inclusivity and retention is culture. Culture needs to evolve to be more inclusive, meaning the behavior of organizations and employees needs to change – a transformation only possible with great clarity of purpose and commitment to DE&I. We recently changed our high-impact culture to be crystal clear in our commitment to DE&I.

As Renee Connolly, our Chief Diversity Officer, has openly stated, “From today on, let’s be clear. DE&I is no longer a topic. It is not an issue. It is not a hobby. It is a people and business IMPERATIVE. One that we are advancing together. Every leader, every team manager and every individual colleague spanning our 66 countries must help pull the collective weight for the greater good of our journey. Our journey to nurture an INCLUSIVE workplace.“

InclusionWe are proud that our inclusive culture just earned a score of 100% on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index – motivation for us to go further. As a result, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany had made public commitments to reach gender parity in leadership positions while increasing the number of people in under-represented racial and ethnic groups holding U.S. leadership positions from 21% to 30% by 2030. To support these commitments, we train our managers and employees to detect and address unconscious bias.

This science-based training, called Brain@Work, was tailored to foster DE&I and help us make better people decisions with an eye toward inclusivity. By offering relevant industry and company-specific training, we are reshaping a work culture that has already become more collaborative and productive. As an industry, we could benefit by making similar commitments.

The growth opportunities ahead for the semiconductor are nothing short of exciting. And while the talent challenge can seem intimidating, DE&I is one key to turning the tide. Workforce development initiatives that build truly inclusive cultures by bringing together employees with different education levels and diverse backgrounds will open up new talent pools and encourage more people to establish a career in the semiconductor industry. We need to address DE&I just as passionately as we pursue industry growth by leveling up our efforts and capabilities.

Philip Matthes is Director, Global Head of Human Resources for Semiconductor Materials in the Electronics business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, which operates as EMD Electronics in the U.S. and Canada. He holds a doctorate in history from the University of Bonn, Germany.

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