TAIPEI, Taiwan Chip design jobs hustling out the back door to save money? Such a scenario has long troubled the minds of U.S. engineers, who witnessed firsthand the offshoring of other design and support work to cheaper countries. Poof, jobs gone forever.
The controversial issue struck another sour note late last month when a Commerce Department report mothballed by the Bush administration in 2004an election yearfinally came to light. The report added to a growing pile of evidence showing that U.S. chip design is becoming more vulnerable to offshoring in places like China and India.
After news of the report surfaced (see July 31, page 1), EE Times readers responded to a call for opinions on how outsourcing is affecting them. Some of their responses appear here.
Surprisingly with such a hot-button issue, there were no rants. Instead, there was a grim acknowledgment that it's a dog-eat-dog world, and that globalization will leave no industry unscathed.
"For too long, the U.S. has been complacent in its leadership role and too many people have failed to recognize the significant advancements in other countries [and] the clear, strong talent pool that has been increasing in its size and competencies," said Michael Krause, an engineering fellow at a U.S. company. "People need to wake up to the fact that a global economy touches all jobs and all skill sets."
American EEs fear that U.S. companies are looking for equally smart, but cheaper, engineers in developing markets who can be future stars once they gain experience. Moreover, they wonder if America is trading away its future industrial leadership for short-term gains in the bottom line, while shortchanging long-term priorities like investments in education and basic R&D. Others would like to see more-enlightened policies to encourage foreign talent to study and live in the United States.
Call it globalization, call it localization for new markets. But no amount of window dressing or even rare candor will change a disturbing reality for U.S. chip designers: Their jobs are at risk and will be for some time.
The U.S. tech industry started offshoring assembly and test in the 1970s, followed by chip fabrication and much system design in the 1980s and '90s. But a trend that could have easily turned sour ended up spurring the fabless model, a linchpin of innovation in the semiconductor industry--and an arena dominated by U.S. companies.
The testy part
The testy part of offshoring now is its move into the part of the industry--chip- and platform-level design--that employs the highest number of EEs, and the highest paid.