Highly-skilled young Scottish engineer Sean McKenzie has many accomplishments, but perhaps his most important contribution to the sector could be a simple lesson: that skills shortages can be overcome.
His 11-year career at Blantyre-based, globally-operating semiconductor specialist Ichor Systems has been an object lesson in how focused nurturing of talent can create a new generation of professionals who excel in skills which were in danger of being lost.
The 30-year-old has recently been made a supervisor of the company’s team of refurbishment engineers. Sean now oversees a team of engineers, many years his senior; which is a position of significant responsibility. In addition, he coordinates several continuous improvement activities which are geared towards operational efficiencies.
He said: “As an engineer, I have had many of the guys asking my opinion about technical matters, so this latest step up doesn’t create any issues. In fact, I have had nothing but support and encouragement.
“But it does illustrate that opportunities are there for the taking in microelectronics and with the right drive and commitment, there really is no limit to what new entrants to the sector can achieve.”
Sean joined Ichor Systems, one of Scotland’s most successful niche technology companies, in 2006, straight from the East Kilbride Group Training Association. He then spent four years as an apprentice.
He said: “I had no idea what a semiconductor was, let alone what the industry did. I was picked out of the training centre by the team at Semi-Scenic – Ichor’s predecessor company – and asked if I wanted to build a career.”
Sean now has qualifications in mechanical and electrical engineering as well as certification with Lam Research, a major supplier of wafer fabrication equipment and services to the semiconductor industry. . He has also been on business improvement courses.
He said: “It was the field work which initially attracted me – the young man’s idea of travelling the world. And I’ve done plenty of travelling – for instance, attending Lam product training course for weeks at a time in California.
“Asia is now booming in the semiconductor world as well and the opportunities in field service in that sphere are fantastic. The market is rapidly increasing.”
Sean is now engaged on bringing on and developing graduates as part of Ichor Systems’ balanced programme of recruitment, which is designed to create a sustainable pipeline of new talent over the coming years.
He said: “The graduates we take on are very talented and enthusiastic have a head start on the technical side as a result of their university training. We are also maintaining an apprentice programme for longer-term training.”
Sean said that whereas he used to aspire to ownership of his own company, his focus now is on his own continuing professional development and he hopes that success in supervisory roles may lead to involvement in senior management.
He said: “There is no doubt that much of the engineering talent which was developed at the height of Scotland’s semiconductor boom is dissipated, but it is extremely important that these skills are not irretrievably lost.
“If we can develop the right skills in the right people, we can create the critical mass to take the sector in Scotland forward as a viable concern.”