With the government unleashing new measures to improve the local semiconductor industry and also planning to set up a fabrication plant, opportunities abound for students in the electronics field.

Student interest in electronics engineering is high, but very often graduates have to be content with a limited choice of employers related to their core subject. The situation is likely to change, after recent government policy measures in electronics and semiconductor field including the decision to set up a fabrication plant (fab). Among them, the National Policy on Electronics (NPE), recently approved by the government, aims to achieve a turnover in electronic system design and manufacturing (ESDM) of about $400 billion by 2020 involving investment of about $100 billion.

Job prospects

So, how are the job prospects for an electronics graduate in the field of semiconductor design? There are plenty of jobs, mostly in multinational companies (MNCs) operating in India. Job prospects are especially bright for students with a master’s degree. There are over 750 MNC captive centres in India, with 350 in the Engineering R&D space.

Eighteen of the top 20 U.S. semiconductor companies have strong design centres in India. India is the second largest resource pool for Applied Materials, says Aninda Moitra, vice president, Applied Materials., president and managing director, Applied Materials India. These centres provide an opportunity to do cutting-edge design. For instance, SanDisk, a flash memory solutions provider, was setup from scratch in India and scaled to Intellectual Property revenue of $800 million. Their design centre also filed many patents, notes Chinnu Senthilkumar, a venture capitalist and former India Head for SanDisk.

However, so far, those who specialised in semiconductor materials and device fabrication usually had to leave the country for jobs or higher studies. The recent move by the government to open a fab will certainly lead to opportunities for students in these areas, says Prof.Shanthi Pavan, Professor, Electrical Engineering Department, IIT Madras.

Besides core electronics graduates, fab would open up opportunities for pure science students and other engineering disciplines such as chemical, mechanical and electrical engineering. Additionally, the fab will likely create demand for graduates with knowledge of basic science such as materials science, semiconductor physics and applied physics.

In addition to digital design, analog design for products such as lighting, sensors and intelligent electronics is also growing. “The barrier to develop these products is creativity and a huge consumer market is readily available,” says Rajesh Swaminathan, co-founder of xSi semiconductors, a start-up focusing on analog semiconductors.

What employers want

However, while there are many exciting opportunities, are graduates technically prepared for the job?

Company executives point out that while there are over five lakh engineering graduates each year, only a few make the cut. Also, the job situation in India is unlike that of the U.S. where it takes six months to a year to find the right candidate for a semiconductors position.

Atrenta, electronic design automation (EDA) vendor, says that it hires from tier-1 institutes such as various IITs, NSIT, DTU, BITS-Pilani, Kurukshetra University and Punjab Engineering College. “The company looks for knowledge of electrical engineering, circuit design, physics and computer science,” says Sushil Gupta, VP and MD, Atrenta India. Starting salary that students can expect in this field is Rs. 7 to 10 lakh per annum.

It takes one year to train a new graduate in industry-level operation and roughly two years for producing value. Hence, what companies look for is hands-on real-world problem solving ability. However, it may not be realistic to expect this from undergraduate students, as it is a broad-based programme. Hence, an advanced degree such as a master’s or more preferably PhD helps in gaining hands-on experience.

Even in a master’s programme, there may be two streams available. For example, IIT Madras offers two kinds of master’s degrees — one based largely on coursework (two- year M. Tech. programme), and one based on research (the M.S.) which typically takes longer. While the shorter programme may be attractive to students, Prof Shanti Pavan says that the research programme students are sought after by the industry, due to the comprehensive hands-on work done.

Other avenues

There may also be options such as certificate programmes. For instance, IIT Bombay offers a joint certification programme on Semiconductor Manufacturing Technology in association with Applied Materials. The programme is seven days long and enables participants to utilise a semiconductor fabrication facility dedicated to university-industry research.

A graduate may also consider entering a PhD programme. Prof. Shanthi Pavan indicated that funding is not a problem, and there is a severe shortage of motivated and good graduate students at the PhD level. IIT Bombay has a good blend of research and industry collaboration.

As an example, Prof. Udayan Ganguly of IIT Bombay pointed out that there are around 30 engineers from Applied Materials on campus engaged in various industry-academia collaborative projects.

Also, there may be entrepreneurial avenues to explore. For example, there is a business incubator at the Centre for Electronics Development and Technology (CEDT) at IISc Bangalore.

Students can benefit from centres such as the Technology Business Incubator (TBI) in Pilani.