Recruitment Challenges in the High-Tech Packaging World

Recruitment Challenges in the High-Tech Packaging World

Let’s face it; if you are a hiring manager in almost any field, you know how difficult it is to find a qualified candidate with the needed skillset “right out of the gate.” However, it is even more difficult in the semiconductor packaging design industry and every outsourced semiconductor assembly and test (OSAT) supplier knows this fact quite well. In this article, we will discuss the challenges and possible solutions to the problem.

As a hiring manager for semiconductor packaging, I have gone through candidate after candidate within the various engineering fields to try and find any recent grads with even the slightest idea of what a semiconductor package is – much less how to design one. Then, once deciding on a candidate, one cannot help but wonder if they are going to stick with it after you put in the time and effort to train them. Sometimes training lasts six to eight months before I am brave enough to trust a “newbie” with even entry-level production work.

Many years ago, this very thing happened. After months of searching for the “right” candidate, I finally found a very intelligent, personable and seemingly hard-working engineer. “Yes!” I thought to myself, “This guy is definitely teachable.” The only possible problem was that this candidate had a background in civil engineering – yes civil engineering. But he was truly the best candidate at the time. It did occur to me that he might not like his new career choice once he learned that we would not be using transits, levels and compasses to design semiconductor packages. So, I asked him quite bluntly “Are you sure you are going to be OK with such a major change in your career path?” The answer was a resounding “Absolutely! I have always wanted to work with semiconductors!” So, he was hired.

He trained remarkably well, and he remembered all the answers to the quizzes that I gave him each morning before we moved on to deeper and deeper aspects of the design engineer’s job. Each day he began with a big smile on his face. After two weeks of training, one morning (I remember it quite well) I noticed that his smile was gone. I knew immediately. Yes, he found another job – as a civil engineer, no less. So, he traded-in his newly acquired knowledge of wire bonds, Gerbers, traces and vias for a pocket tape and a surveyor’s wheel. Two weeks… down the drain, at least for me.

So, what is the problem? This is the million-dollar question, and it is an important one – quite possibly the future of packaging is at stake! Without advanced package engineers who are experts at connecting the silicon to the outside world, a piece of silicon is just a beautiful piece of art that mesmerizes the onlooker with its radiating iridescence. 

So, it’s time to go in search for the catalyst of the problem. Can we find all the answers within the scope of this article? Probably not. But let’s see if we can isolate at least one of the root causes.

For Daniella Olson, now a Senior Design Engineer at Amkor Technology, her path from undergraduate student to professional engineer highlighted the challenges that many novice engineers face.

“Having spent the better part of the past decade working in advanced packaging design, I am proud of my technical skill set and industry knowledge. However, that was not the case when I was the prospective candidate sitting across the interview table from the hiring managers, hoping that they would deem me to be the ‘right’ candidate,” she says, “I was in my final year of university studies, just months away from earning my Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and excited at the prospect of beginning my career.”

In preparing for her first interview, she realized that while she had taken numerous classes on circuits, signals and design, the importance of semiconductor packaging design had been omitted from her studies. “I could speak confidently to logic gates, signals and CMOS, but not so much to geometric dimensioning and tolerancing (GD&T) or substrate package assembly,” she said. She vividly recalled attempting to discretely jot down unfamiliar acronyms and topics during her first interview, vowing to rush home to research them in the hopes that she would have a second interview. Fortunately for our team, we, the hiring managers, saw potential in her and brought her into the world of packaging design.

"I could speak confidently to logic gates, signals and CMOS, but not so much to GD&T(geometric dimensioning and tolerancing) or substrate package assembly"

Olson continued, “As an EE undergrad, I felt privileged to be under the tutelage of professors who were experts in their fields. Yet as a first-year practicing Packaging Design Engineer, I found myself asking a lot of questions – the most frequent one being ‘why didn’t I learn about this in school?’” Is that because there were deficiencies in the electrical engineering curriculum? Or, perhaps, because there is no one undergraduate degree that can adequately prepare a new engineer for the semiconductor package industry? For example, electrical engineering students are taught the behaviors of electrical signals while mechanical engineering students spend hours learning the ins and outs of computer-aided design (CAD) software. Both topics are important to package design but both topics are not taught to the same engineering discipline. Ultimately, it is up to the hiring manager to determine which skills their ideal candidate must have versus what can be taught through on-the-job training.

Even the most comprehensive university education cannot keep up with the fast-paced advancement of technology in the semiconductor industry. However, the opportunities for partnerships between colleges and universities with leaders in the semiconductor packaging design industry cannot be understated. It is up to those parties with a vested interest to determine whether those partnerships are through inviting guest speakers into the classrooms, internships, developing industry-focused curriculum or, ideally, all of the above.

Of course, these partnerships would benefit students looking to gain exposure to the “real world.” But they would benefit semiconductor companies as well by offering insight into the emerging applicant pool. It also benefits the university whose students have a job waiting for them when they graduate, perhaps the highest compliment that a university can receive. As one’s career progresses within their chosen industry, certain skills and concepts become second nature, and it can be easy to forget what it was like when just starting out in a career. Connecting industry experts and leaders with inexperienced, but driven students, can provide a cycle of constant improvement in which everyone benefits.

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