Newswise — There's still a healthy demand for engineers and information technology (IT) specialists across a variety of skill sets, increasingly the result of U.S.- and Asian-based companies expanding their design and development activities in the region. The demand for software skills dominates the job opening lists of many companies in the area, especially the largest software developers and chipmakers.

"Asia is incredibly important to Microsoft," says Fiona Mullan, the company's senior human resources director for the Asia-Pacific.

Mullan says Microsoft is in the market for a variety of technical skill sets, but software development engineers, software development engineers/test, and program managers with cloud computing skills top its current list of requirements, mainly in China, India, Malaysia, and Singapore.

"We're committed to helping build vibrant local software economies throughout the region, and that includes investing in world-class talent," says Mullan. "We hire MBAs, social media blackbelts, writers, game artists, designers and other talented people with something special to offer the tech industry."

It's a similar story for Intel's Asian operation, which hired at least 2000 software engineers in the last two years. "Skill set requirements are getting more complex and sophisticated, though the hire numbers have stayed at similar levels," says Cindy Zhang, Intel's Asia talent acquisition director. "We are pacing our growth to allow time for integrating and assimilating new talent," says Zhang. But the focus could change. She says that while manufacturing continues to be Intel's largest business group presence in Asia, the region is preparing itself to expand in platform design and development, which requires a combination of both software and hardware skill sets. This could be a specific capability across BIOS and device drivers, software architecture in general, or with experience working on platforms ranging from laptops to tablets and phones. "These skill sets reflect the growing R&D charger Intel has in Asia," says Zhang.

However, Paul Otellini, Intel's chief executive, told analysts in a conference call in mid-July that revenue growth would be in the "three to five percentage, versus high single digits" range, which might slow hiring for the remainder of the year.

Meanwhile, Intel is testing a "Jobs at Intel" mobile app. Capable of running on both Android and Apple devices, it's designed to keep potential employees in the loop on job opportunities at Intel, with daily feeds of all of Intel's job postings by category, job title, and location. (According to a MobiThinking study, mobile job searches have quadrupled in the last year.)

NEW DESIGN AND R&D CENTERSQualcomm plans to establish an IC design and engineering R&D center in Singapore, focusing on chipset design and development. (China is already the company's top market, accounting for a reported 29 percent of its revenue last year.)

Qualcomm hasn't been specific about its hiring plans for the facility, but says the new design center aims to tap into local and regional talent to develop a wide range of hardware and software-related design support solutions, as well as augment Qualcomm's existing product test center in Singapore.

Qualcomm has already posted job openings for at least 10 hardware engineers in China, mostly with an RF background, as well as about 30 software engineers in Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen. Qualcomm also needs at least 30 hardware and 65 software engineers in India, and has about nine openings for engineers in South Korea.

Google reportedly has hundreds of engineering openings across the Asia-Pacific, but has only posted openings for about 20 to 30 engineers in the region, including several slots in Sydney for engineers with a focus on networking, software development and test, and mobile apps.

After announcing in April that it would merge its printer and PC businesses, Hewlett-Packard said in May that it expected to cut 27 000 jobs company-wide by 2014. But it said it had no plans to reduce its workforce in China.

More recently, HP indicated it was looking for more than 100 engineers in several disciplines for its facilities in Shanghai, and at least 157 engineers--mostly with software backgrounds--to staff its Bangalore operations. HP said it also needs about 100 technology consultants and SAP specialists in the Philippines, and from 10 to 20 engineers each in Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and New Zealand.

Rohde & Schwarz (R&S), the Munich-based test and measurement specialist, has major expansion plans, building its first global hub outside of the company's headquarters in Germany in the Changi Business Park in Singapore. The new $85 million, 12 747 square meters facility, to be known as Rohde & Schwarz Asia, will house engineering, product development, R&D, production, and the company's regional headquarters. Completion of the facility is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2013, but R&S has already published a list of 36 job openings in Singapore, topped by a technical recruiting specialist. Other job openings call for several software developers, development engineers specializing mainly in RF design and FPGAs, and product engineers with a background in electromagnetic compatibility.

R&S says the new facility will have a staff of about 130 when it opens, and plans to add another 50 people in three to four years. Most of the technical staff will be hired locally or regionally, but the search for engineering talent could expand beyond the region in the future. As for hiring engineers across the Asia-Pacific, R&S says it is cooperating with universities to identify both graduates and alumni and that it plans to organize career fairs in Penang, Malaysia and elsewhere.

Visteon Corp. recently more than doubled the size of its Yanfeng Visteon Automotive Electronics (YFVE) operation in Shanghai to 323 000 square feet to produce a range of car driver information, audio and infotainment products. The upgraded facility can now accommodate 1300 employees, but Maggie Lin, a spokesman for YFVE, says additional employees will be hired to support projected growth. "We welcome both domestic and international talent as long as their skills meet our requirements."

Also, St. Louis-based Laird Technologies, which designs and produces customized electromagnetic interference (EMI) shielding products for wireless and other applications, says it is looking for several process, firmware, EMI, and automation engineers to staff its facilities in Shanghai and Bangalore.

Semiconductor manufacturer Micron Technology has announced plans to buy the bankrupt Japanese chipmaker Elpida Memory for about $750 million, although the acquisition has been challenged by a group of Elpida bondholders who claim the purchase price undervalues the company's assets. (Micron also plans to buy a 24 percent stake in Taiwan-based Rexchip Electronics from Powerchip Technology for $334 million. Elpida owns about 65 percent of Rexchip.)

Micron says it's too early to talk about how the Elpida acquisition would impact hiring, but Micron is very active in the Asian market, recently posting openings for about 100 engineers in Singapore, and other engineering slots in Shanhai and Xian, China. "Competition is definitely fierce for engineering resources," says a company spokesman.

Maxim Integrated Products is also boosting its staff, looking for at least five field application and software apps engineers for Shanghai and Shenzhen to help develop and market its analog and mixed-signal ICs in that area. And Intersil Corp., which also designs and makes analog and mixed-signal chips, is looking for about 10 (including several senior-level) analog design and embedded firmware engineers for its new design center in Bangalore. The Intersil center will develop new ICs and reference designs as well as provide system-level application support for customers.

AUSTRALIA SHORTAGESAustralia, like much of Europe, has experienced a shortage of engineering professionals over most of the last decade, a situation exacerbated by the need to replace Western Australia's (mainly Perth's) ageing infrastructure and in response to the area's record population growth. "While efforts are underway to graduate more engineers, Western Australia will not produce sufficient numbers to meet the level of demand in the foreseeable future," says Chris Fitzhardinge, a former president of the Western Australia Division of Engineers Australia.

Western Australian industry and the government are also trying to attract engineers from other areas of the country as well as retain more recent graduates educated in Western Australia.

New Zealand's electronics industry is small, but there are plenty of job openings, due, in part, to a drop in the number of EEs in the country between 2006 and 2010. New Zealand's Department of Labour estimates the number of EEs dropped from 1023 to 793 between 2006 and 2010.

Most EEs in New Zealand design and produce niche products for export, although a growing investment in the country's telecommunications infrastructure is creating new opportunities for EEs.

EXPANSION EVERYWHEREThere's plenty of expansion in the area. Xilinx India has more than doubled the size of its operation in Hi-Tech City to 131 000 square feet to accommodate engineering labs and product development. The site, which represents the largest R&D center outside the company's U.S. headquarters, currently employs more than 400 people in programmable platforms development and global tech support.

Samsung Electronics is spending $1.9 billion to build a new logic chip facility in South Korea to help meet the demand for mobile devices. ChipMOS Technologies has purchased a 393 000 square feet building across the street from an existing facility in Southern Taiwan Science Park to expand its chip testing and assembly services. United Microelectronics Crop. recently broke ground for a 300mm fab in Taiwan. General Electric recently completed construction of its China Innovation Center in Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan Province in southwest China, to explore new techical solutions for area markets.

And Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. is expanding its foundry services in its Beijing facility.

IBM, meanwhile, recently opened its 50th office in China, specializing in software development and telecommunications. IBM is also establishing a systems and technology R&D laboratory in the Philippines, dedicated to information and communications technologies (ICT).

Another development that could lead to an expansion of hiring of people with certain skill sets is the significant increase in military buildup in the entire region. Military analysts at IHS Jane's expect China's defense expenditure to exceed the combined spending of all other major countries in Asia, doubling to almost $240 billion by 2015. India and China both want to build up their navies (India hopes to put three new aircraft carriers into operation by 2017), and most Asian countries have plans in place to upgrade their air forces. Western Australia also has a small, but busy defense and aerospace sector with programs that require systems and software engineers. System integration skills for defense systems upgrades and for Australia's ambitious Future Submarine Project and Pilot Training System Program are also in demand.

MORE COMPETITION FOR TECH TALENTOne thing that hasn't changed across the region is the quest for engineering "talent"--a word that's heard increasingly in conversations with human resource (HR) and engineering managers.

And it's making hiring qualified people a challenge.

"Yes, competition for technical talent is on the rise," says Intel's Zhang. "Each of the Asian talent markets responds to different drivers so the competition reflects differently in different talent markets."

In China, for example, Zhang says there's an increasing preference to work in a government-owned company over multinational corporations. "This means that we do need to look at attraction factors beyond just the 'professional appeal' of a multinational corporation and focus on attending to unique local needs, such as housing assistance." In India, Zhang says people are looking more for challenging opportunities. Working for a good company brand is also appealing to the local talent.

Compensation and benefits are important factors in the region. "But we have not found it to be the most compelling factor," says Zhang. Intangible benefits, like opportunities, the peer set people work with, and the technology they will work on are critical factors in what organizatiion people join.

Interestingly, while most hiring of engineers and related tech professionals in Asia has previously been directly out of universities, this is changing. College graduates will continue to be Intel's critical talent pipeline in the region, but Zhang says, "We are seeing experience overtaking hires of college graduates in many countries, as we grow our R&D presence in the region." In fact, she says Intel is investing more in attracting, integrating, and developing experienced technical talent, particularly in software and platform development.

Zhang says that in both countries there is an increasing focus on job readiness through internships and industry exposure, mainly through tie-ups and courses conducted by senior managers. "Our expectation is to spend at least three to six months working with the recent college graduates to ensure they are able to move successfully into roles and this is done through our internal integration process."

Intersil agrees that India and other Asian-Pacific countries produce a large talent pool of engineers. A company spokesman says, "We generally look for graduates with relevant academic background that includes analog training and personalities that fit our innovative approach to design." One source of "strong talent," she says, is the Indian Institute of Technology.

Microsoft says it uses a variety of tools to recruit, including university campuses, professional/industry events, social media sites, and traditional job boards. "We hire candidates from around the world and recruiting takes place both locally and across markets," says Mullan.

Still, more than half (54 percent) of China's respondents to PriceWaterhouseCoopers LLP's 15th Annual Global CEO Survey, published early this year, suggests that a shortage of talent is preventing businesses in China from innovating effectively. That's far higher than the global average of 31 percent. Only about a third of the 160 China and Hong Kong-based CEOs polled expressed confidence they will have the necessary talent to execute their strategies in the next three years. Specifically, in the technology sector, 43 percent of the CEOs surveyed said it is "more difficult" to hire the kind of "talent" they are seeking. As a result, 59 percent of the China-based CEOs expect to source more of their staffs globally.

AND MORE IT JOBSThe sluggish global economy has taken its toll on the number of IT jobs being offered by IT companies at leading engineering schools in India, with hiring of graduates of state schools during the recent campus recruitment period down 15 percent to 20 percent compared to 2011.

Also, India's National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom) suggested recently that not all of India's annual output of 770 000 engineering graduates are job-ready and may need additional training. (In fact, Wipro's T K Kurien, executive director and CEO-IT business, told The Times of India that it will "do far more assessments" in its hiring in the future and that he expects the company's investment in training people will grow significantly this year.

Still, hiring overall in the IT sector seems to be up. Wipro, India's third ranked software exporter after Tata Consultancy Services and Infosys Technologies, reported its IT services segment had 138 552 employees as of 30 June 2012, an increase of 2632 people in the first quarter ended 30 June.

Tata Consultancy's staffing grew nearly 40 000 in the fiscal year ended in March. Tata says it plans to hire about 50 000 people in the coming year.

There's also growing interest in India in non-IT jobs and entrepreneurship.

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) says India's engineering design and development sector is on a rapid growth curve as the country makes deeper inroads into the global engineering space.

However, a Global Innovation 2012 study recently published by the international business school INSEAD and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), along with the CII, Alcatel-Lucent, and Booz & Co., ranks India sixty-fourth among 141 countries on the basis of their innovation capabilities and results--two notches below where the country ranked in the 2011 study. China ranked thirty-fourth.

According to the study, "The innovation front in India continues to be penalized by deficits in human capital and research, infrastructre and business sophistication, where it comes last among BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and in knowledge and technology outputs, where it comes in ahead of Brazil only."

Shri Partha Chatterjee, India's minister of commerce, has said that the challenge, in at least parts of India, is to reduce the skills gap and to create opportunities that would reduce the brain drain in areas such as West Bengal. He said the government of West Bengal envisions creating an engineering hub in the state by adding at least 50 000 engineering jobs by 2017 and 100 000 by 2020.

China's IT regulatory body, the Ministry of Industry & Information Technology (MIIT), meanwhile, says it expects China's software industry to double its growth in the foreseeable future, based on demand in both foreign and domestic markets. China's IT services sector grew 32 percent and China's software exports increased 19 percent in 2011.

About Ron SchneidermanRon Schneiderman is a contributing editor for Electronic Design and Vision magazines, and a regular contributor to IEEE Signal Processing Magazine. He's the author of seven books, including Technology Lost--Hype and Reality in the Digital Age.