Israel's chip industry needs you

Microchip  production  credit: Shutterstock

Startups and international giants alike are competing for Israel's best talent in the semiconductor disciplines.

Israel is a major microchip industry player. Just last month, for example, Google announced the establishment of a chip development center in the country (Uri Frank, who resigned from Intel a month before the announcement, will head the center). And activity is truly wide-ranging: Intel is developing its central processing units (CPUs) for personal computers and data centers in Israel. Applied Materials has significant activity in Israel, both development and production. Apple is developing LiDAR sensors for iPhones and autonomous vehicles in Israel. Amazon is developing machine-learning chips for cloud computing in Israel, and reportedly will continue with developing network chips for data centers here. And these are just a few of the of the chip companies now operating in Israel.

The boom raises questions about how to enter this burgeoning labor market. "Globes" presents the options for finding employment in semiconductors.

What should you study?

Electrical engineering, electronics and also physics

The term "chip industry" refers to the production, development and design of semiconductor-based electronic systems. Most of the industry works with silicon, but it can be any material that behaves as a semiconductor. "The chip industry provides computing power for various needs," explains Dr. Amir Capua, a faculty member at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and head of The Spintronics Lab, which is developing future devices for the chip industry. "It can be for computers themselves, and it can be for applications and other uses such as, for example, a water heater that can connect to your device so you can communicate with it."

The growth trend will continue, given industry demand. Capua explains, "Communication has become more visual, requiring higher capabilities and speed, so better chips are needed - the requirements have become more demanding."

Electronic engineering studies are one way to get into the sector. Prof. Mor Mordechai Peretz, Head of the Center for Power Electronics and Integrated Circuits, and Head of the Electronics and VLSI (Very Large Scale Integration) program at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, explains that "The training track begins with basic studies, essentially electronics, digital and analog. After that, we move on to the next stage of more advanced studies. In order to secure an entry-level job, you have to go through basic and intermediate studies, as an introduction to the field and to integrated circuits."

An engineering degree takes about four years, after which it's possible to find employment at any of the development centers now opening in Israel.

However, one can enter the chip industry via computer science or physics studies. In fact, the industry monitors students and an interesting phenomenon has come about: about a year and a half after students start their degrees, the industry already identifies the outstanding "talents" and offers them internships. In this way, the different companies grab the best people and train them for work in the industry.

How much can you earn?

Between NIS 20,000 and NIS 30,000 gross per month

Israel's semiconductor industry currently employs 38,000 workers, according to high-tech placement service Ethosia. Most work in development and engineering at established companies and start-ups that develop chips for the automotive industries, 5G telecommunications, storage, and any other application that currently requires advanced technologies.

According to Ethosia, Intel is the sector's largest employer in Israel with over 14,000 employees. Intel is followed by Mellanox, which was acquired by Nvidia (3,000 employees), and Apple (1,100 employees).

In recent years, pay for standard chip sector jobs has trended upwards. In the last quarter, the average gross salary for the various positions was between NIS 28,500 and NIS 32,100, while in 2019 the range was NIS 26,000-28,500. One industry insider estimates that the average gross salary for basic jobs in hardware runs between NIS 18,000 and NIS 24,000, plus shares and options.

According to Ethosia, 2021 began with a large number of open positions in the sector. For example, 150 jobs were offered for VLSI professionals, (compared with 700 job vacancies in all of 2019), and 180 jobs were offered for verification positions (compared with 450 vacancies in all of 2019). Considering that the first quarter is usually the year's weakest quarter and the fourth is the strongest, we can predict that 2021 as a whole will see a higher number of jobs. Ethosia data indicate a strengthening in semiconductor disciplines.

Nonetheless, the industry is facing a huge shortage of circuit engineers. The field has expanded greatly in recent years, but there are not enough staffers. "Demand is rising and the market is in dire need. I hear this from industry executives at various companies - the market is thirsty for circuit engineering people," says Capua. "At the same time, the academy is also having a hard time competing with the temptations offered by industry. It's much harder for academic institutions to obtain people, so there's a problem in providing training."

Peretz expands on reasons for the market shortage: "First of all, there weren't enough jobs, so people didn't go into hardware. Secondly, some people think that jobs in the materials field are technical and routine - long lab hours or validation (running different scenarios to ensure there are no problems). Hardware had the stigma of menial labor, of getting your hands dirty. People have got to understand that this industry relies on chips."

What sort of jobs are out there?

Designers, engineers, quality assurance, and management, too

Intel, Israel's biggest employer in the field, has a workforce of 14,000 people in Israel, of which 7,000 are in development, 4,900 in production and 2,100 are employees of Mobileye, Moovit, and Habana Labs, Israeli companies that Intel has acquired. Nathalie Abramowitz, Talent Acquisition Sourcing Manager at Intel Israel's hardware development center, describes what they look for: "We recruit good talent. It can come from electrical engineering or computer science, it can be people who work in the military and do side projects at home - we look at everything. We have hundreds of open jobs, and we're looking for good people.

"There are positions for architects who design what the processor will actually look like. There's a position called Logic Engineer - which is basically chip design and code writing. There are verification jobs for testing products and their internal performance. And there are many more roles - Quality Assurance and team management," Abramowitz says.

The companies themselves are also aware that the field is on the rise. "The world is producing more data. The moment there's a need for higher processing capabilities, then we need more people. We at Intel understand this and must develop our processing capabilities. Although there are ups and downs, there is a market for silicon and we will always be there," adds Abramowitz.

Rachel Ehrlich, Human Resources Manager for hardware at Intel Israel, says, "Working with hardware allows for deep technological development. Deep technologies can have high impact - trying reach everyone around the world. Beyond the application stage, there is simply the beauty of working with hardware."

Is hardware a male-only field or are there women, too?

"We are committed to the advancement of women in the industry; we're working on it in all areas. Overall, we do see more female students studying these disciplines and there are women engineers out in the field. We want to see that happen more, and we do see women advancing to key positions," say Abramowitz and Ehrlich.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on April 26, 2021

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2021

Microchip  production  credit: Shutterstock
Microchip production credit: Shutterstock
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