Costa Rica is in Need of More Technical and Skilled Personnel for the Booming Semiconductor Industry

    Companies are literally fighting for skilled people in this area

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    There are three key elements in the semiconductor manufacturing industry. One is silicon for manufacturing, which is not a problem because it is the second most abundant element after oxygen. Another is demand, which has no problem because devices need them from a toy to a computer. The third is human beings, and here there are serious problems.

    Neither the most advanced technology nor artificial intelligence have been able to replace the people who manufacture the microchips.Hands and minds are still needed for the whole process, and this is where dreams of expansion are colliding with the lack of personnel prepared for the task.

    The bad news is that the world does not seem to be able to supply all the needs of the industry. The good news is that Costa Rica still has a chance to compete in the race.

    What is being done in semiconductors?

    The semiconductor industry follows a long process that goes from ideas to final sale, each with different job opportunities.There is research and development, manufacturing, testing and even special packaging.The structure may resemble other industries with developers, managers and operators, but the science and technology of the process here changes everything.

    CINDE’s Investment Climate Director, Vanessa Gibson, details that everything from soldering to the way a chip has to be stored is totally different and demands specific training.

    Talent sought for semiconductors

    In the microchip universe, every chip counts and companies are literally fighting over them.Depending on the functions to be developed, there are training fields ranging from technicians, through engineering and basic science degrees to doctorates. All of them are marked, however, by a need for specialization that experts believe should start in schools.

    “We have to start channeling, hopefully the kids from technical schools, to follow a pattern of deeper specialization. That gives them all the elements of the engineering basics, but also allows them to develop those competencies. What in the United States they call a technical associate’s degree,” Gibson adds.

    “What we need to do here is to have a national strategy to take the technical kids from the vocational schools, start enrolling them in these two-year, university-level programs that will make them specialized technicians. And to promote even more the number of young people who hopefully choose to enter universities in these careers, because the dynamics is centered on the number of this profile that we can offer to the semiconductor companies”, he continues.

    Added to the challenge is the projection that, at least at the base level, other production niches could also compete for workers. General lines set out by the State of the Nation speak of the capacity to generate 9,000 skilled people; however the figure could still fall short.

    “These profiles, both technical and ‘professional converge’ level, coincide, so it is required by many other economic activities,” says State of the Nation researcher Maria Santos.

    “First of all, those with ICT training, all economic activities require for example computer scientists, we all fight them. But also other engineering profiles, in general, are not only required by the semiconductor industry, but also by other industries with a lot of dynamism in the country, such as medical devices”, she added.

    Everything urgently needed in another language

    Part of the human resources challenge in semiconductors is the urgency of the need for personnel, which does not keep pace with the pace of training.“I can, at a certain point, inject a lot of investment. However, talent is not trained as quickly, so it is one of the most critical skills that takes the longest to train,” said Maria Santos.

    “A whole series of things are needed. Infrastructure, financing, a whole series of things, there is a big check list. However, at the base of these investment requirements is human talent,” she says.

    Gibson says that companies have pointed out the need for constant training. This ranges from retraining engineers to polishing young people who have just finished their careers, as well as technicians.With the current scenario, she stresses that no progress can be made if applicants are not proficient in English.

    “It is not going to give time in this career that has this dynamic of chipsact that the companies have how a translated course. No. This is a start-up, we are going to set up operations, we need people to be trained, to understand the processes and so on, and yes, they need English,” he says.“A person with a good technical or professional university education, if he or she does not have a B2 level, is invisible to companies,” warned Santos.

    Semiconductors, beyond the classroom

    Working with other people is also part of the challenge in the semiconductor industry. That’s where the so-called “soft skills” come in.The key scenario is to have the ability to detect problems and provide solutions that can be systematized.

    “The underlying theme will be all these skills that accompany these areas of engineering activity: problem-solving, development of experiments, ability to interact in multidisciplinary teams, the whole issue of leadership, methodologies,” emphasizes the CINDE expert.

    Both experts emphasize together with her the factors of teamwork and assertive communication; topics that may sound simple but are key for the professional environment.

    In addition to this, the tools that people add to their curriculum will be added to offer a “complete package” according to the specific area of semiconductors where they want to be.

    It is not the first time that human talent has saved the country

    Given the complex picture that can be envisioned about the ability to respond to the needs of semiconductors, Gibson recalls the country’s ability to respond to various waves of investment that demanded a transformation of professional profiles.

    “In magnitude possibly this one looks big, it looks super big and it looks super complex. But when we started the service sector or the medical sector, when they talked to us about the most basic things, such as how they had to know accounting, but American accounting, believe me, it sounded just as esoteric,” Gibson recalls.

    “What has simply happened is that every time these opportunities open up, the international standards and requirements are becoming more and more aligned with technological advances. But the country has had the capacity to respond in the past to these types of challenges, that’s what’s important,” he reassures.

    The Minister of Foreign Trade, Manuel Tovar, reiterates the preparation of human talent as a pillar of the investment attraction strategy; this hand in hand with public and private institutions. To this he adds the promise of a new generation of incentives.“There is no doubt that this will be a turning point for the country, for our economy, for our society and will mark a before and after,” he said.

    His Science and Technology colleague, Paula Bogantes, includes the same theme in the steps to take advantage of the opportunities opened up by the United States.“Many times companies require a large number of engineers but twice as many technical skills,” she emphasizes, while recalling the need to provide professional updating.

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