MEMS Commercialization Report Card, Part 11: Management and Employment

Roger's Report Card by Roger H. Grace

Introduction

As we begin to wind down the MEMS Commercialization Report Card series, management Expertise and Employment will be the topics of this episode. The final episode will address the topic of R&D, provide a summary of all 14 Report Card topics, and offer an invitation for readers to participate in the 2014 Report Card.

Management Expertise

Grade Analysis

2013 Grade=B, 2012 Grade=B, Change=0, S.D. =1.80 (based on 85 respondent inputs), S.D. = 1.15 (based on grades from 1998 to 2013)

Fig. 1: The management expertise grade has remained at its B level since 2007 which is the highest grade achieved.  It gradually increased from it C level in 1998
Fig. 1: The management expertise grade has remained at its B level since 2007 which is the highest grade achieved. It gradually increased from it C level in 1998.

Discussion

The executive management of most MEMS companies has come through the design engineering ladder with no formal management training, i.e., an MBA. They usually learn management with on the job training. Typically, they tend to be technology push versus market/application pull minded because of their engineering background and experience. Also, there have not been a sufficient number of qualified MEMS engineers to come up the ladder with the ability to assume high level management positions in MEMS companies. As a result, the boards of directors of these organizations go to the semiconductor industry to find executive level talent. There are many similarities with MEMS and semiconductors but be not be fooled, they are not the same.

The consensus of opinion is that MEMS is a much more difficult business because of the complexity of the technology and the high fragmentation level of the market applications. Analog Devices should receive an award for the number of qualified engineering managers, sales and marketing executives that they have trained for jobs in the MEMS industry. I have several clients/former clients who have received their "MEMS Training" at Analog Devices and now they hold executive level positions at many MEMS organizations, especially in New England.

Essentially, it is becoming more important for MEMS management to become more system savvy rather than just focus on MEMS devices. For a MEMS company to be viable these days, it needs to embrace a MEMS-based systems solution, meaning that knowledge of MEMS devices must be supplemented with knowledge of signal conditioning ICs, algorithm development, and packaging. Since MEMS is an interdisciplinary technology, i.e., electro, mechanical, biochemical, and optical, it is much more of a challenge compared to other technologies for management to have a good understanding of all of these disciplines simultaneously. That is if the manager expects to be successful in making informed and intelligent technical and business decisions.

Verbatim Comments

  • It has to be getting better based on the industry age and increasing financial motivation to attract better talent in the future.
  • Absurdly, MEMS companies still continue to put people in senior management positions with absolutely NO MEMS experience.
  • Companies like Discera have had great opportunity but fail the investors due to mismanagement.
  • In general, corporate management still does not seem to understand the magnitude of the effort to bring MEMS products to market
  • There are plenty of successful managers in the MEMS component fields across the globe. There isn't a glut, nor is there good training available. Everyone must learn through the school of hard knocks, which is fine for those of us in a position of experience, but a challenge for those interested in becoming new program managers from other fields, or for new entrants.
  • The managers are learning, but MEMS alone is not sufficient, the system level has to be considered to a large extent because there are chances for more income if the selling quantities are not too high

Summary

There is much room for major improvement here. MEMS management needs to move from its historical technology push strategy and adopt a more market applications pull strategy.

Additionally, MEMS management needs to be more aware of the importance and value of the systems think approach and look for ways to achieve more value and create more product differentiation. This is especially true as MEMS design become basic commodities.

Employment

Grade Analysis

2013 Grade C+, 2012 Grade=C+, Change=0, S.D. =1.60 (based on 85 respondent inputs), S.D.-0.69 (based on grades from 1998 to 2013)

Fig. 2: As with several other subjects, employment grades have followed the overall economic conditions of the world, reaching its lowest level of C- in 2009.  It has remained at the C+ level for the past three years following the increasing health of the worldwide financial ecosystem.
Fig. 2: As with several other subjects, employment grades have followed the overall economic conditions of the world, reaching its lowest level of C- in 2009. It has remained at the C+ level for the past three years following the increasing health of the worldwide financial ecosystem.

Discussion

Employment in the MEMS industry has been on the upswing since 2009, which is also the approximate bottom of the recent world financial crisis. Engineering graduates, especially those who graduate from MEMS-focused advanced degree research universities, like University of Michigan, University of California Berkeley, and Stanford, continue to find well-paying jobs in MEMS organizations.

The need for management and marketing people in MEMS companies is increasingly filled by individuals from the larger MEMS suppliers. Analog Devices has played a major role in training both marketing/sales and technical individuals for roles in smaller companies.

The recent interest in MEMS from major suppliers that have historically been outside the MEMS industry has created many well-paying jobs for MEMS engineers. In Europe, the thirst for advanced technical degreed graduates continues, whether it be in research institutes or in large engineering companies.

As the China market ramps up, the need for qualified MEMS engineers is rapidly increasing. Numerous Chinese professors in the US have returned to their native China to assume relatively high=paying positions in research engineering universities. It appears that the China market will continue to gain momentum in the development and use of MEMS, thereby creating a very healthy employment situation.

Verbatim Comments

  • Slow but steady there will be more jobs added in the MEMS industry. The numbers demand it.
  • Good news is low labor content (as a percentage of COGS). Need more R&D to increase employment.
  • Stronger employment following recession.
  • Back to the Apple, Samsung, Google and Microsoft example. More and more people are hired to design and produce MEMS than ever before that.
  • Requests from companies are detached from reality. Talents are not paid sufficiently.
  • More MEMS students will be landing jobs.
  • MEMS will not require a lot of people due to the leverage of the fabless semiconductor industry and the foundry model. Lots of people aren't needed, and that isn't a problem.
  • Still considered a niche market, but new emerging applications will bring this technology to the forefront as an important element for new products under consideration today.
  • Challenge to find good engineers with more than just academic background in MEMS.

Summary

Employment opportunities are looking better because of the continuing upswing in the overall economy and the "big dogs" entering the market, like Apple, Google, Intel, and Qualcomm. These organizations require engineers with MEMS expertise to better understand the role and functionality of MEMS devices in consumer products.

Based on recent discussions, graduates from MEMS-specialty programs are having little to no problems finding high-paying jobs at large US-based companies. The existence of Industrial Advisory Boards at universities offering these MEMS programs have provided future potential employers with early access to graduate students.

Finally, there is the development of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the resulting proliferation of many companies wishing to enter the market. A key element of an IoT node is the sensor front end. Although these companies will not necessarily require MEMS device designers, they will require engineers that understand how to integrate MEMS into systems.

About the Author
Roger H. Grace is president of Roger Grace Associates (Naples, FL) which he founded in 1982 as a marketing consultancy serving the sensor, MEMS, IC and capital equipment markets. He holds the B.S.E.E. and M.S.E.E. (as a Raytheon Company Fellow) degrees from Northeastern University where he was awarded the Engineering Alumni of the Year Award in 2004. He was a visiting lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley College of Engineering from 1990 to 2004. He can be contacted via email at [email protected].

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Read the first five parts of Roger's MEMS marketing manifesto.

The 2013 MEMS Industry Commercialization Report Card: Barriers to the Successful Commercialization of MEMS

MEMS Commercialization Report Card Research Project, Part Two

MEMS Commercialization Report Card, Episode 3: Technology Clusters

MEMS Commercialization Report Card, Episode 4: Industry Associations

2013 MEMS Commercialization Report Card, Part 5: Standards & Roadmaps

2013 MEMS Commercialization Report Card, Part 6: MEMS Infrastructure & Market Research

MEMS Commercialization Report Card, Part 7: Creation of Wealth, Part One

MEMS Commercialization Report Card, Part 8: Creation of Wealth, Part Two

MEMS Commercialization Report Card, Part 9: Creation of Wealth, Part Three

MEMS Commercialization Report Card, Part 10: Profitability and Venture Capital Attraction

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