People shortages hinder semi expansion projects

Meg Villeneuve

The semiconductor equipment and materials sector is seeing record quarterly results and healthy order rates, but one major problem may be affecting the industry's ability to continue its torrid growth – not enough qualified people to fill job openings.

While the severity of the problem varies greatly from firm to firm, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that tight labor supplies are acting as a brake on some corporate expansion. “The shortage depends on the position. I think everyone is in short supply of the right people,” says Michael Wright, VP of materials handling supplier Entegris, Chaska, MN.

The problem isn't industry-specific; fast food restaurants and law firms alike are scrambling to fill open personnel requisitions. And there is a certain irony to the situation, given the deep layoffs that affected virtually every semiconductor equipment company a couple of years back. But time is of the essence in winning contracts for fab equipment and materials, and a personnel shortage can affect a company's ability to pursue and fulfill orders.

In excimer laser supplier Cymer's most recent quarterly report, CEO Bob Akins notes, “This quarter was not without its challenges. First, the ongoing difficulty of identifying and hiring qualified personnel in the current economic growth cycle, with its attendant low unemployment rate, left our actual headcount below plan. We are addressing this situation aggressively, and are making some progress in key areas.”

Separately, Photronics Inc., the Brookfield, CT-based mask supplier, is training and hiring people who are unemployed. For the most part, company officials say they are doing well except for one area, information systems (IS). “We are continually challenged to get and keep people in IS,” says Mike McCarthy, Director of Investor Relations.

To help find qualified people for its member companies, Electronica 2000 will be extending its 19th annual International Trade Fair to include a job fair. The appropriately named Job Exchange Market will take place from November 21-24, 2000, in Munich. Most companies will be posting current job openings in the hopes of attracting qualified candidates at the show.


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