Divyansh|Aug 26, 2023
VLSI & IC : New branch of electrical engineering with ‘no dearth of jobs’, says IIT Hyderabad professor
Engineering students must look beyond computer science; electrical engineering now offers many job opportunities, says IIT Hyderabad professor.
NEW DELHI: The All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) recently introduced a model curriculum for BTech in a new branch of electrical engineering – Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) design and technology – as well as a diploma in Integrated Circuits (IC) manufacturing. Siva Rama Krishna Vanjari, professor, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Hyderabad, chaired the committees that framed the courses and spoke to Careers360 about what they bring and why engineering students must look beyond computer science for careers. Edited excerpts below.
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Q. How is the electrical engineering curriculum changing?
A. This is not an extension of electronics and communication engineering [ECE] or electrical and electronics engineering [EEE]. This curriculum is a new branch of engineering tuned towards VLSI design and technology. Although the fundamentals will be the same for these courses, the orientation will be different. The examples will be different but the concepts will be the same.
We took the suggestions from the India Semiconductor Mission (ISM) committee. In December 2022, ISM was established as an independent business division under Digital India Corporation. ISM is responsible for catalysing the India semiconductor ecosystem in manufacturing, packaging and design. Under ISM, a committee was constituted to look into promoting the VLSI products and design. They have suggested the subjects and courses a VLSI graduate should be skilled in to be industry-ready.
Over the past 20 years, ECE and EEE domains have evolved tremendously.
The four-year course is divided into two years of basics and two years of advanced topics and application.
We have introduced VLSI design, fabrication and technology basics in this curriculum.
Students are learning the theory and replicating what is done in the industry in the curriculum itself. This is the key differentiator that we are bringing into the curriculum.
Q. What topics does the model curriculum cover?
A. The curriculum is balanced with an equal emphasis on chip design and chip fabrication aspects. As far as chip fabrication is concerned, we have included the basic knowledge of VLSI technology as “Introduction to Microfabrication” and a few other courses. Broadly, we have introduced two courses: semiconductors and equipment technology. Everything will be taught in the fabrication facility – students must be aware of the practical aspects of the curriculum.
Physico-chemical characterisation courses will be taught separately. While these courses will be taught, there are no standard books and material, and we are developing these textbooks. Along with AICTE, we are planning to create an online repository of video lectures and graded books. By the time the courses start running across colleges, this repository can be utilised by students to study.
Q. You also chaired the committee that designed the diploma in IC [integrated circuit] manufacturing. Why was that necessary now?
A. If you look at any workforce for an industry, it has to have a pyramid structure where you have both semi-skilled and skilled manpower. The IC manufacturing industry is highly complex. The gases used are specialised. So the course will teach candidates about fire-safety mechanisms, including handling extremely specialised gases. Also, such industries work 24 hours; hence, manpower must know essential skills like fire safety management, building management systems to understand the routine operations of the system.
Many jobs are available in this industry, including packaging and many allied industries. If you look at manufacturing, some medium and small-scale industries require more skilled workers and the diploma will provide skills training.
Q. What is the target audience?
A. Our goal is to reach diploma institutes and explain the importance of the IC industry. We need to create a perception and show people that there are many jobs in this area.
The committee envisaged one year’s training at a Centre of Excellence like the Indian Institute of Science (IISc Bangalore) or Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). In the second year, we introduce specialisations which include massive open online courses [MOOC] lectures and train the trainer programmes; and third year is practical training. The committee will help institutes create material for the diploma course and train the trainers spread across seven to eight academic fabrication plants where students will intern, learn the skills, and get hired in the manufacturing sector.
They can even go global after training because countries like Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore need the manpower. So, a quality workforce is always required, both skilled and semi-skilled.
The government is trying to get IC manufacturing units in India. Once these units are established, there will be no dearth of jobs. We are planning two years ahead; by the time the first batch of IC diploma graduates, the industry will be ready, and these people will
Q. But interest in electrical engineering seems to have declined. The greatest emphasis seems to be on AI and machine learning.
A. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and computer science have grown, but the backbone is VLSI. Further, data centres are mushrooming, and AI has led to much competition, but this is due to advancements in the VLSI industry. This field has become a niche and competitive; hence more workforce is required.
The engineering education system is skewed towards one or two engineering disciplines. The demand will shift in the coming times because quality is required in chemical, mechanical, and other core engineering sectors.
It is a mindset problem rather than a demand-and-supply problem. Automation is not killing jobs but people’s mindset that only computer science will provide jobs is restricting because everyone is competing within one sector.
The jobs in other areas may bring less pay but there are still jobs. Students nowadays are running after money rather than focussing on long-term outputs. In the next 20 years, other engineering sectors will generate more jobs and manpower.
We need to do surveys of the job market in various disciplines and educate students and parents that there are several other engineering disciplines.
Q. What are the job opportunities for the BTech and diploma students?
A. For the undergraduate course, like the software industry, there is a huge industry of VLSI, including chip making, testing, verification and designing of modules.
For instance, “designing systems'' has different modules under each system and sub-systems. We are collaborating with industry to contribute to the academic environment, where they could teach the courses, and the industry could be a part of the teaching process.
We are also suggesting to industries that they let the colleges teach introductory IC courses and they can offer certification programmes. In this way, students get the credits and become industry-ready.
As of now, big companies like Qualcomm, Broadcom, Spicron, Mediatek, and many others have jobs available. However, we need to ensure quality manpower.
We are also promoting start-ups in the space of IC designing and manufacturing.
We have to change our mindsets. There is a lack of jobs for a reason –
not because the job market is not doing business but because the quality
of graduates is not good. Students opt for ECE and focus only on
programming language instead of focussing on the core concepts. Why would an electrical company hire you?
But corrective steps have already been taken. The consumer market is growing with millions of phones sold yearly. As desires become necessities, there is always a job market. Electronics are everywhere.
The four-year course is divided into two years of basics and two years of advanced topics and application. We have introduced VLSI design, fabrication and technology basics in this curriculum
This curriculum is a new branch of engineering tuned towards VLSI design and technology. Although the fundamentals will be the same for these courses, the orientation will be different
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