For chipmakers, few roles are as important as the field service engineer. Their work is vital to keeping fabrication plants (fabs) running.
Fab success is hard to pin down. Yes, strong field service engineering teams make good chips, circuits, and production equipment. But what makes a great engineer? And how many is “enough” when it comes to building a sustainable workforce?
It’s estimated that each fab needs approximately 2,000 to 3,000 field service engineers. The process of finding a high quantity of candidates, and ensuring quality across the board, is becoming as much of a challenge as the general global chip shortage has been.
Before we dive into how to find the quality and quantity of field service engineers required for success, let’s dive a bit deeper into the role itself to understand why it can be challenging to find candidates.
What is a Field Service Engineer, and Why are They Hard to Find?
Field service engineers—also known as field service technicians—install, create, repair, and upgrade products and systems. While some spend a lot of their time in-house at the fab, many travel to client facilities. They may also lead training and onboarding sessions for other employees.
Field service engineers fulfill a range of duties depending on where they work. It can be a catch-all role.
An interesting aspect of this sector is that it can blur typical client-provider boundaries. Imagine you ran a semiconductor fab making custom integrated circuits (ICs) and original business hardware, like lithography scanners. You’d probably build a team of field service engineers to conduct demonstrations and repairs for your clients. You’d also host engineers from your suppliers—the companies that built your lithography and other production equipment.
This variability in job duties speaks to the diverse nature of the semiconductor business. Although traditional fabs mostly cater to massive multinational product manufacturers, the landscape is evolving. Today’s fabricators might sell equipment to other fabricators, startups, and state entities. Field service engineers play essential roles on both sides of the equation.
Why Are Field Service Engineers in Such High Demand?
We’ve only touched on some of the reasons the semiconductor sector loves field service engineers. To really grasp the situation from an HR context, it’s worth looking closer—especially when it comes to fabs and the broader market outlook. While company size does play a role, we mentioned larger fabs may employ 2,000 to 3,000 technicians. There are plenty of good reasons why:
Diverse Product Capabilities Equal Profitability
Fabs rarely work on a single product or product line. With their fingers in so many pies, it’s only natural they’d need more hands.
Also, remember that most businesses don’t just want equipment or ICs for a single season—they need it to last. Fabs that hire engineering cohorts should view it as a multigenerational investment—in the products and its people.
International Compliance and Adaptation
Semiconductor production epitomizes intense regulation. From effluent waste to national security export laws, there’s a rule for everything. The fact that most fabs have their eyes on international business further complicates the story.
In any case, you’ll need an experienced talent pool that can customize your production practices. They’ll also need the know-how to help your clients domestic and abroad adapt. Hiring multi-skilled engineers is just a good insurance policy.
Prepping for Future Disruptions
We’ve been glossing over the massive elephant in the cleanroom: the chip shortage. The global supply chain took a huge hit during COVID-19 thanks to massive order cancellations and shifting consumer demands. Smart fabs have taken the lesson to heart. They’re diversifying their investments and locations to support older process nodes and legacy wafer sizes.
What’s the thinking behind such moves? Fabs hope to gain enhanced resilience against future supply chain disruptions—not to mention funding. For this to work, companies will need engineers conversant with a broader range of processes.
The Market Is Growing
Today, things look far better than they did during peak pandemic times. The semiconductor supply chain isn’t fully healed, however. Demand is recovering, but fabs can’t bank on once-guaranteed sales growth.
Fortunately for industry players, there is one reliable factor: state-level investment. Governments are just as wary of supply chain shortages as the private sector is. And regulators are ponying up funding to head off future scarcities.
The 2022 U.S. CHIPS and Science Act was just one example of how countries are trying to boost domestic fabs. The European Union followed suit soon after. The interesting thing about these laws is that neither limited itself to cutting-edge infrastructure. Both pieces of legislation highlighted older process technologies to shore up existing supplies. Once again, fabs need to diversify, reskill, and upskill. That means hiring more good engineers and technicians who are open to learning.
Screening for Quality Field Service Engineers
So, what specific skills will help your fabrication workforce survive such tumultuous times?
- Engineering workforces should master distinct generations of process technology to accommodate clients in search of market staying power. Try not to overlook skills involving more mature tooling, like 200mm wafers and 40nm process nodes.
- Your talent needs understanding and awareness of compliance regimes in your target market. For instance, producing military- or aerospace-grade devices doesn’t just mean using military- or aerospace-grade components. You also need to satisfy testing and other requirements, such as MIL-STD 750 in the US. Building a compliance-ready, culturally sensitive team is integral to achieving market penetration.
- Soft skills matter. Field engineers must be able to answer questions, devise impactful training, and help you land sales. Knowing your way around a stepper and being good at troubleshooting are only half the battle.
- Adaptability is key. Capable field service engineers might not tick all the boxes from the start, but they shouldn’t have a problem with upskilling and retraining. Ideally, they’ll be self-motivated to pursue continuing education.
Don’t neglect the basics. For your staff to dive in seamlessly to accomplish company goals, they’ll need electrical engineering education, project management experience, and cleanroom training. They’ll also need a solid theoretical foundation that complements their skills.
Despite the continued dominance of Moore’s Law, transistor counts aren’t the sole hallmark of better semiconductors. Nobody knows where the next big process trend might lie, whether it’s inverse lithography or AI-aided layout. Keep your workforce capable by drawing talent from industries like aerospace, healthcare, and defense. Sectors that tend to weather ups and downs are great sources of engineers who can impart valuable survival lessons to your organization.
Find Field Service Engineers for Your Team
Assembling a transformative field service engineering workforce is an equation of many variables. Some, such as market demand and supply chains, are beyond your control. Others, like your hiring practices, are.
Writing a good field service engineer job description isn’t the end-all solution. Standardizing your interview processes and fine-tuning your hiring matrices aren’t magic cure-alls. Sourcing well-rounded engineers demands a well-rounded pipeline.
Building a talent system should never be a shot in the dark, even if the path forward isn’t always obvious. Finding a better staffing partner lets you identify the hiring factors you can control—and put a plan in motion to account for the rest. Ask the IG team how to start moving in the right direction.
Consider an Experienced Staffing Agency
Knowing what to look for, which prior experiences translate, and screening for aptitude for thousands of candidates can be overwhelming. Partnering with an experienced staffing team in the semiconductor industry can be a direct line to top talent.
However, there are concerns to note here as well. A trend in the industry is that field service engineers are quitting their contracts early. The wrong staffing partner makes all the difference here. Find a partner who places an emphasis on culture and cultivating genuine relationships, as well as one who takes the time to properly source and screen candidates.
Here are some benefits of having a staffing agency find field service engineers for semiconductors:
- Expertise: Staffing agencies specialize in finding and placing talented professionals in specific industries. They have a deep understanding of the skills and experience required for different job roles, including field service engineers for semiconductors.
- Access to a larger talent pool: Staffing agencies have access to a larger talent pool than most companies. They can quickly identify and connect with qualified candidates who may not be actively looking for a job but are open to new opportunities.
- Time-saving: Finding qualified candidates for field service engineer positions can be time-consuming. Staffing agencies can handle the entire recruitment process, from sourcing candidates to screening and interviewing them, saving companies valuable time and resources.
- Quality of candidates: Staffing agencies typically have a rigorous screening process to ensure that candidates have the skills and experience required for the job. This helps companies find high-quality candidates who are a good fit for the role and the company culture.
- Reduced risk: Staffing agencies can help mitigate the risk of making a bad hire. They offer temporary staffing options, allowing companies to try out candidates before making a long-term commitment.
Ready to find the quality and quantity of field service engineers your organization needs? Get a free consultation today to see how Insight Global can support you!