Peter Gillespie

SVP, Strategic and Corporate Marketing, Advanced Energy

“I’ve never seen a better time for this industry…chips are cool again,” remarked Mark Edelstone, chairman of global semiconductor investment banking at Morgan Stanley, during a recent semiconductor industry event. Semiconductor chips, and the technologies they enable, are everywhere in the news as they power today’s growing data economy. Chip demand is at record levels—driven by the rise in remote work, the shift to 5G, high-performance computing and the return of the automotive manufacturing industry. This, in turn, is driving semiconductor manufacturing companies to record sales and spurring industry innovation at a dizzying pace. The rapid increase in demand is proving to be beneficial to our industry (power conversion, measurement and control technologies used in the manufacturing of semiconductors and other high-tech products).

So, what’s the problem? A shortage of talent—there simply aren’t enough science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-trained and industry-ready employees.

Addressing the Root Cause

At Advanced Energy, our engineering team, including those focused on semiconductor manufacturing applications, consists of over 700 talented professionals around the world and is quite literally the engine for our product development success. We pride ourselves on having one of the best working environments in the industry. We view our global talent (and our work to systemically build and grow our teams) as one of our differentiating advantages.

However, as we introduce new technologies, break into new markets, and expand our reach, we know we can’t do it without expanding our workforce. There’s more to do—both now and for the future.

Working alongside industry partners such as SEMI (the electronics manufacturing industry association), and many universities worldwide, including Cal Poly, AE is working to amplify and build the industry talent pipeline of tomorrow. 

To access more talent, students need to be attracted, encouraged, and inspired to explore opportunities in STEM. One way to do this is by creating a culture where talented people from different backgrounds, with different experiences, different strengths and different ideas are welcomed and accepted. Opening STEM opportunities to a more diverse audience not only fills the industry pipeline with qualified talent but also fosters innovation and can lead to stronger business results.

With increasing diversity as an objective, building a bigger talent pipeline comes down to four things:

1.    Widening intake – grow STEM training “funnels”

2.     Reducing leakage – retain students throughout the full pipeline

3.     Increasing talent flow – add more “funnels” into the pipeline

4.     Directing talent flow – create specific industry segment awareness

The graphic below illustrates an end-to-end STEM career pipeline example in the semiconductor industry and highlights examples of programs that AE collaborates with to widen the funnel, reduce leakage as well as increase and direct talent flow. More details on the individual programs follow the graphic.

Inspiring STEM Students

With a vision for a thriving microelectronics industry with a highly diverse, skilled workforce at the heart of its educational foundation, the SEMI Foundation’s High Tech U (HTU) is an interactive immersion workshop focused on the microelectronics industry for high school students. High Tech U aims to show students what it’s like to work in high tech and the different pathways from school to a career in technology. To date, SEMI has hosted over 255 workshops reaching over 350,000 individuals. 78% of HTU alumni go on to pursue STEM-based college programs vs. only 22% of the general high school population. More than 40% of the alumni are women and almost 60% are non-white. By giving students a better understanding of the career possibilities within STEM, HTU is working to build a bigger talent pipeline by widening the funnel and directing it towards the semiconductor manufacturing supply chain. The SEMI Foundation is currently building similar programming for college and university students as well as virtual content to support building industry awareness and talent pipeline growth.

“The semiconductor industry has enabled a vast variety of electronic products that are used across the globe and have improved our lives immeasurably,” said Ajit Manocha, president and CEO of SEMI. “Introducing high school students to this exciting industry and encouraging them to pursue a career in semiconductors will not only address the critical talent shortage we face today but ensure that the future of innovation remains bright.”

Engaging Diversity & Providing Navigation

Nationally recognized as a top producer of engineering talent, Cal Poly serves as a key connector in the STEM pipeline. The California university has developed a range of school services and programs to not only encourage students to pursue a STEM degree but also to support STEM candidates throughout their college careers. Partnerships with local high schools on student-led outreach programs are designed to increase the number and diversity of students entering engineering programs. Many of these programs draw on the idea of fostering a sense of community.

Amy Fleischer, dean of Cal Poly’s College of Engineering, gives an example: “Cal Poly’s award-winning Society of Women Engineers (SWE) chapter has over 1,000 members and offers numerous opportunities for girls to connect with members through Girl Scout programs, high school level SWENext chapters, and on-campus activities. Our National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) chapters offer similar programs such as SHPE Jr. and NSBE Jr. chapters.”

Once students arrive on campus, they find a supportive community designed to help them succeed. With more than 80 student organizations, a Cal Poly student is likely to find a home with one of them, providing the inclusive communities that fight STEM “leakage.” Summer undergraduate research programs (SURP) provide 1:1 mentoring. Mentorship experiences like these are known to also help close the leaks in the pipeline and keep students engaged.

These and other efforts are paying off as Cal Poly Engineering is seeing “leaks” in the pipeline close, as evidenced by increases in graduation rates. In just the past three years, the four-year graduation rate increased 14 percentage points, to an all-time high. Cal Poly’s six-year graduation rate also increased to a new high of 84%, compared to a national average of closer to 65%. At the same time, the university has made significant progress in closing the graduation gaps for students from traditionally underrepresented groups and for students who are eligible for Pell grants. Over the past three years, the graduation rate gap for students from traditionally underrepresented groups has decreased 30% while the graduation gap for Pell eligible students has been cut in half.

Giving Back to Grow Talent for Our Industry

Advanced Energy recently launched the Advanced Energy STEM Diversity Scholarship Program aimed at developing emerging talent and promoting greater ethnic, racial and gender diversity in STEM. Our scholarship provides tuition support, mentoring and hands-on professional experience. Open to undergraduate and post-graduate students studying electrical engineering, physics, or material science at multiple universities located near key AE locations, the Advanced Energy STEM Diversity Scholarship aims to develop students into workforce-ready professionals.

This scholarship not only inspires diverse talent to study in a STEM field but also provides a helping hand to those who need it. Our applicants come from diverse backgrounds; many are first-generation college students and others have overcome difficult environments, including those where women studying science is frowned upon. Our applicants inspire us to do better as employers to help cultivate a diverse, inclusive, and vibrant working environment.

Erica Brown, vice president of global talent management and organization development at Advanced Energy remarked: “The global technology industry faces two significant challenges: first is the insatiable demand for qualified and skilled engineers, second is the lack of a diverse workforce that brings new and differentiated perspectives. AE’s vision, inspired by our previous CEO, Yuval Wasserman, is to create a program to meet these challenges head on by providing diverse STEM students with academic assistance, mentoring and hands-on professional experience.”

This is a great example of building a bigger talent pipeline by focusing on increasing diversity flow through the pipeline—and building a direct bridge to the semiconductor manufacturing supply chain.

Looking at the Big Picture

Building a bigger industry pipeline that captures more STEM participants, increases diversity, and delivers that talent to our own industry (and AE, specifically) is personal for me in many ways. Beyond my day-to-day responsibilities, I am passionate about growing the next generation of engineering leaders. At AE, I am grateful to work with the best people in semiconductor and industrial power product development. I also am glad to be very active in serving on SEMI’s Board of Industry Leaders and Cal Poly’s College of Engineering Advancement and Advisory Board. These experiences have helped me see how trade organizations, universities, and AE can work together, amplifying each other’s efforts, to bring new opportunities to prospective students. Additional new STEM students build a bigger industry talent pipeline that will bring the next generations of opportunities in an upward spiraling virtuous cycle.

Do you have an idea on how to help widen funnels, reduce leakage, and increase the flow rate of industry talent? We’d love to hear from you. Please contact me [email protected], Shari Liss at SEMI ([email protected]), or Amy Fleischer at Cal Poly [email protected] to share ideas, collaborate and build our talent pipeline.