Scientists urge government to publish semiconductor strategy before it’s too late
The government has been urged to publish its long-awaited semiconductor strategy to secure the future of the industry, in a new report from the Institute of Physics (IOP) and the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng).
Semiconductors are central to the modern world, and found in thousands of products such as computers, smartphones, appliances, gaming hardware and medical equipment.
The report argues that the UK’s role in this multi-billion-pound global industry is being held back by skills shortages, high costs and low public awareness of semiconductors.
This includes skills shortages at all levels, from school-age physics through to specialist electrical engineering skills, exacerbated by a shortage of specialist physics teachers, with a particular skills gap among women and underrepresented groups.
There are also problems of high costs for design tools and competition from big international players stifling innovation and stopping many new companies getting off the ground.
Meanwhile, low levels of public awareness and understanding of semiconductors have compounded the recruitment challenges companies face.
The IOP and RAEng are calling for the government to urgently publish its promised semiconductor strategy, which they argue must tackle these challenges and support UK businesses to grow and compete in the global race where frontrunners such as the US, China and Taiwan continue to dominate.
This follows similar calls from companies operating in the industry, which fear losing out to rival markets without more support.
Sufficient financial backing for a thriving homegrown semiconductor industry would, says the report, mitigate against the UK relying on other countries for the vital technology and would help insulate the country from industry disruption caused by geo-political factors.
It suggests a national ‘semiconductor institute’, which the government is set to explore through a £900k feasibility study, could be an important step towards the solution.
Such a national body could speak for the sector, support small businesses, and offer education and training, according to the report.
The IOP’s director of science, innovation and skills, Louis Barson said: “This strategically crucial industry can power the technologies and jobs the UK needs – but its future cannot be allowed to be one of domestic under-investment and extended, vulnerable global supply chains. The future economy depends on ensuring we have unobstructed access to critical technologies like semiconductors – and that starts with a strong home-grown industry.”
Professor Nick Jennings chair of RAEng’s engineering policy centre committee, added: “Government intervention is crucial to achieve strategic advantage for the UK, both in capitalising on commercial opportunities and improving the security of supply and resilience. Other countries are continuing to invest significantly in their own semiconductor industries and the UK will fall behind without timely government action and a coherent strategy.”
The government has been approached for comment.