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Asian engineers hold on as industry recovers

Posted: 01 Oct 2003 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:south east asia? recovery? msalary? engineer? survey?

A slow growth rate may not necessarily be that appealing. But for EEs working in an industry that has been through a long downturn, any hint of growth is good enough. With renewed optimism in the global semiconductor industry, EEs across Asia are finding more opportunities and enjoying higher salaries.

Optimism in the region abounds as more technology companies move their production facilities to Asia. What looks even more promising is the increase in design centers across the region especially in India and China. Increased investment by big semiconductor companies including Intel and STMicroelectronics have also boosted confidence in the economy and is expected to translate into more job opportunities.

This year's EE Times' "Salary & Opinion Survey" show that salaries for design engineers and managers in North America and Europe have leveled off. However, salaries for engineers in Asia are improving. With design and development work pouring into the region, competition for highly skilled engineers has increased significantly. Companies have also been finding it hard to recruit engineers with special skill sets this year compared to previous years.

How does the engineering community feel about the improved conditions? To find out, EE Times - Asia polled 1,459 engineers across the region with varying job titles and responsibilities. The overwhelming response was that conditions have improved from previous years and continued growth is expected.

Personal interviews were also conducted with executives from different technology companies. Respondents were asked about salary trends, in-demand skills, career opportunities and the overall industry outlook. Results from last year's survey showed optimism in the future of the industry despite the slump. This year, the expected rebound became a reality with results showing growth and more opportunities.

In our previous survey, we used general averages for the comparison of salaries between 2001 and 2002. This year, we take a look at salaries in more detail based on job title and job function. We also identify the industry segments that are set for growth in the region and at the overall outlook for the industry.

Job function

In South Asia, 17.8 percent of the respondents work in the semiconductor segment. Around 11 percent are involved in consumer electronics and 10.4 percent are into academic research.

Results also show that 19.9 percent of the respondents work in companies that had at least $1 billion in sales revenue for 2002 and 17 percent in companies with $100 million to $499 million in revenues. Some 15 percent are in companies with $1 million to $9.9 million in sales revenue, while 11.6 percent are in companies with less than $1 million in revenues.

Based on job function, 18.8 percent of the respondents work in quality assurance/control while 17.6 percent are in hardware design and development engineering. South Asian engineers who work in sales and marketing were the highest paid in Asia this year, followed by chip design engineers. This year's results also show that average salaries of section/department heads increased significantly from a year ago.

Most of our respondents from mainland China, Taiwan and South Korea work in design-related jobs. Engineers involved in hardware design and development engineering comprise 23.6 percent of the respondents from China, 28.2 percent from Taiwan and 31.1 percent from South Korea.

South Asian engineers with Ph.D.s enjoy higher salaries compared to their counterparts in other Asian countries with average annual salaries of $42,045. In China, engineers with a doctorate only receive an average salary of $9,583. This is also true for experienced South Asian engineers who have been working for over 15 years.

Average annual salaries of engineers were also determined based on their management skills. Results show that engineers with budgeting skills have a higher average salary compared to those with personnel hiring skills. Results from China, on the other hand, show that engineers with personnel hiring skills have a slightly higher average salary compared to those with budgeting skills.

Medical/health insurance remains the most preferred company benefit among South Asian engineers. This is also true for engineers in South Korea and Taiwan. In mainland China, pension plans are more preferred followed by medical benefits.

Overseas work

Last year, a majority of our respondents picked the United States as their favorite destination for overseas work. This year, however, only 44 percent considered the United States as the best place to work--perhaps a reflection of the slump in the country's semiconductor industry. "One possible reason could be the large-scale downsizing in this industry, affecting the overall morale/impression on this segment," said Manoj John, industry manager for Frost & Sullivan of India.

Despite the gloomy outlook in the U.S. semiconductor industry, some Asian engineers are still expected to want to gain experience in the technical centers there. Although this trend of wanting to work in the United States is expected to continue, there is also a growing trend of Asian engineers wanting to return home to work.

Asian countries, particularly India and China, have been churning up more engineers in the past few years. Despite this, a lot of technology companies in the region have been finding it hard to fill engineering positions.

Most technology companies in Asia believe that hiring qualified engineers has been more difficult this year compared to previous years. The shift in technology operations of U.S. companies to Asia has created many opportunities in the region, which resulted in increased competition for engineers with specialized skills, particularly in chip design for wireless applications.

Poised for growth

The chip design and system design segments are best poised for growth in South Asia particularly India, as more multinational companies establish design centers in the country to take advantage of the lower cost and the large pool of engineers. Device driver development is a key segment in India's technology industry, according to Vinay Kumar, vice president of MosChip Semiconductor in Hyderabad.

Mainland China is also expected to become a chip design hub in the region as more design centers are established and more design engineers come out of the country's schools. In an interview with EE Times, Synopsys Inc. CEO Aart de Geus pointed to three things that are driving the design market in China: a rapidly developing consumer goods market; a big push in manufacturing; and an entrepreneurial combination of startups and education. "You combine all three things and all of a sudden you have a very fertile ground," said de Geus.

Generally, IC design engineers in the region are only experienced in entry-level chip design. While the more sophisticated silicon designs are expected to stay in the United States and Europe, this might change in the future as local engineers catch up. Engineers in South Asia will continue to enjoy the opportunities and the chance to move forward in their career. While system design is the current trend in the region, IC design holds great promise.

- Dave Ledesma

Electronic Engineering Times - Asia

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