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China’s semiconductor industry continues to suffer from a chronic talent shortage, according to Richard Chang Rugin, founder of chip maker Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. Photo: Shutterstock

China’s semiconductor talent shortage poses biggest obstacle to Beijing’s chip self-sufficiency ambitions, SMIC founder says

  • Richard Chang Rugin, founder of chip maker SMIC, sees no easy fix for the low supply of semiconductor talent in the world’s second-largest economy
  • China’s chip self-sufficiency efforts are also complicated by the global semiconductor shortage and tensions between Beijing and Washington
China’s biggest obstacle to achieving self-sufficiency in semiconductors is a chronic shortage of talent in the industry, not the lack of funding, according to the founding father of the country’s chip manufacturing sector.
Richard Chang Rugin, founder and former chief executive of chip foundry Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC), said in a conference in Shanghai on Thursday that “capital and policy support is not the problem” in the world’s second-largest economy, which is also the biggest market for chip manufacturing equipment.

Chang, 73, said cultivating talent in the country’s semiconductor industry is “not only about academic education, but also practice”, such as experience in factories.

His assessment of the imbalance in manpower supply and demand in the industry is backed by recent market data.

Demand for workers in the semiconductor industry has increased like never before. The industry brought in 65 per cent more new hires in the first quarter this year, compared with the same period in 2020, according to That comes amid an increase of new semiconductor company registrations – from firms involved in everything from designing to manufacturing chips.
Taiwanese entrepreneur Richard Chang Rugin established mainland China’s largest chip foundry, Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp, in 2000. Photo: Weibo
The country’s shortfall of semiconductor industry talent, however, remains acute. That figure doubled to about 300,000 in 2019 from 150,000 in 2015, according to a report published this year by the China Institute for Educational Finance Research at Peking University.

There were almost 512,000 people working in China’s semiconductor industry at the end of 2019, which would hardly meet the sector’s demand for a workforce of 745,000 by 2022, according to a white paper from the China Centre for Information Industry Development.

As part of the 14th five-year plan, Beijing aims to increase the country’s spending on basic scientific research, including on semiconductors, to 8 per cent of total research and development expenditure.

How China squandered early chance to build home-grown chip industry

The lack of semiconductor talent, however, has led Chinese semiconductor firms to lure more talent from Taiwan, especially veteran executives.

While Chang had earlier expressed optimism of China’s ability to catch up with the US in semiconductors, he indicated that the situation has become more challenging because of the global chip shortage and tensions between Beijing and Washington.

“The whole world is facing chip shortages, from the car industry to home appliances,” he said. “[But] China faces more difficulties because of the political and economic sanctions imposed by other countries.”


There’s a global semiconductor shortage and this is why it matters

There’s a global semiconductor shortage and this is why it matters

Still, Chang continues to be involved in China’s semiconductor supply chain development efforts.

The septuagenarian serves as chairman of a new chip foundry, SiEn (Qingdao) Integrated Circuits Co, located in the port city of Qingdao, in eastern Shandong province. This firm has started production of 8-inch silicon wafers and has been testing a new 12-inch production line, according to a South China Morning Post report in August, citing sources.

Chang, who moved to Taiwan from Shanghai at a young age, received his bachelor’s degree in the island and earned his PhD in Texas. In 1977, he joined US semiconductor firm Texas Instruments, where he worked for about 20 years and was involved in the development of factories in various countries.

Chang founded SMIC in 2000, with funding from China’s government, to build a company that would rival Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, the world’s largest contract chip maker. In 2001, he led the development of the company’s sprawling Silicon Valley-style campus in Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park in Shanghai’s Pudong district. He resigned from SMIC in 2009.