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China’s young chip-making talent demands high salaries in tough job market

More than 700 jobseekers descended upon a semiconductor job fair in Shanghai on March 3, where only 500 jobs were available, illustrating a tight job market in an industry of increasing strategic importance for China amid escalating US sanctions.

Most attendees of the job fair, organised by chip industry portal website Ijiwei, were students in Shanghai who expect to graduate this summer. It was held at Zhangjiang High Tech Park, the city’s chip hub, where the jobs on offer came from just 20 companies, according to the organiser.

Despite more jobs than applicants, people at the fair expressed optimism about the industry’s future, which is seeing an influx of cash and other government support, in contrast to the internet industry which is emerging from a two-year crackdown and laying off thousands of workers amid a global slump.

Summer Xia, a postgraduate student at Shanghai University, said semiconductors is a “sunrise industry” with better career prospects and higher salaries. “I expect the annual salary to be about 50,000 yuan higher than what I can get in a traditional material company,” she said, suggesting that she expects a starting salary of about 200,000 yuan (US$28,950).

One booth with a particularly long line of students holding copies of their resumes was for ChangXin Memory Technologies, one of China’s top chip makers. The Hefei-based memory chip designer had six positions open, all requiring graduates who studied integrated circuits (IC) in majors such as microelectronics and information engineering.

“Almost all my schoolmates from the same major are yearning for jobs in the semiconductor industry, but I have yet to secure an offer,” said Jason Wang, a 22-year-old student in the ChangXin line who studies microelectronics. “I’m going to graduate in just two months. I feel anxious about it.”

As part of Beijing’s drive to develop a robust local semiconductor industry to achieve technological self-sufficiency, Chinese universities across the country have set up related schools and departments to train chip professionals. Nationally, China’s chip industry is expected to see a talent shortage of more than 325,000 people by next year, when it will need nearly 800,000 workers.

The domestic chip industry is trying to ramp up production and research and development as it faces increasingly stringent sanctions from Washington that have cut China off from certain forms of advanced chips and chip-making equipment, in particular chips used to train artificial intelligence and equipment capable of manufacturing using advanced process nodes.

A number of the country’s chip champions have been hit by the restrictions. China’s top memory chip maker Yangtze Memory Technologies Co (YMTC) may postpone the construction of a new plant, while the nation’s top chip fabrication firm Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC) has warned of delayed progress in one of its new projects due to equipment procurement issues.

Still, Beijing’s call to arms for the semiconductor industry has attracted many young jobseekers in the country, which will see fresh college graduates top 11.6 million this year, 820,000 more than last year, according to China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security.

Zhang Xiaoli, who is in his final year at Shanghai University of Engineering Science, said he decided to join the industry to “do his part for China’s chip self-reliance”.

Although Zhang already secured an offer from Shanghai Huali Microelectronics, a wafer fab under China’s second-largest chip maker Hua Hong Semiconductor, he is still looking for other opportunities that may offer a higher salary or smaller workload.

The average annual salary for recent graduates of IC-related majors was 287,900 yuan last year, according to a report from Ijiwei. This was more than four times the average salary of all undergraduates in 2021, which was just under 70,000 yuan, according to data from MyCOS and Sohu last June compiled by Statista.

Salaries for some of the most in-demand positions such as analogue chip design and digital front-end design can go much higher. The pre-tax annual salaries for those positions last year reached as high as 567,500 yuan and 472,800 yuan, respectively, according to the Ijiwei report.

Han Pengkai, a representative of Ijiwei, said that the scale of recruitment is “noticeably shrinking at this year’s fair, as a few chip companies have faced financial difficulties or undergone lay-offs due to external factors”.
“Recruiters have become more cautious and stricter with recruitment requirements, making it more challenging for students to find jobs,” he added.

Last year, the corporate registrations of 5,746 chip-related companies in China were revoked or cancelled, up 68 per cent from the 3,420 that disappeared in 2021, according to corporate registry platform Qichacha data cited by Chinese tech media TMTPost.

At the same time, the number of students at the fair increased this year, and salary expectations remain high because the government “has attached great importance and poured a lot of investment into this sector over the past few years,” Han said. “As a result, students are under increased pressure to get jobs.”

Some recruiters at the fair have also noticed the increasing interest from jobseekers.

“Previously, chip companies offered relatively low salaries and the industry was unknown to the public. However, due to government support, the industry has become appealing to students even with majors outside chip-related fields, such as computer science and material chemistry,” said a representative from Shanghai Prisemi Electronics.

“Due to the US ban, now even a vegetable market seller knows the Chinese government strives to develop the industry and that it is a good option to work for chip companies,” said the representative, who asked not to be named.

She added that the company, which focuses on researching power ICs and related devices, has been more “proactive” in hiring than last year, just after it went public in December 2021 on the Star Market, China’s Nasdaq-style bourse. South China Morning Post

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