Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), recognized as the globe’s leading chipmaker, has announced the postponement of its Phoenix, Arizona factory opening to 2025. The company cites a deficiency in skilled American workers as the primary reason for this delay.
Seeking a solution, TSMC has approached the US government to authorize visas for 500 additional Taiwanese employees to supplement the workforce. This move has been met with resistance from an Arizona labor union, which argues that these visas could undermine job opportunities for local residents.
However, the challenges facing TSMC’s Arizona factory are not solely rooted in the alleged skills deficit. Differences in workplace culture between Taiwan and the US pose another hurdle.
In Taiwan, the commitment to work is deep-rooted, with employees often expected to work extended hours, sometimes at the expense of personal time. Morris Chang, TSMC’s founder, recently illustrated this cultural norm during a panel in Taipei. He described a scenario where a Taiwanese engineer would, without hesitation, leave for the factory in the middle of the night if required.
TSMC staff, in a conversation with The New York Times, expressed skepticism about whether American workers would demonstrate similar dedication. They voiced concerns that this cultural gap might result in Taiwanese workers shouldering a disproportionate amount of the workload.
Wayne Chiu, a former TSMC engineer, pointed out another dimension to this issue. He conveyed to The New York Times that while technology is a central aspect of wafer manufacturing, managing personnel is the true challenge. He emphasized that American employees, with their distinct work culture and ethos, might pose management challenges.
US employees have voiced their own concerns about TSMC’s work environment. Reviews on the career platform Glassdoor provide insights into these apprehensions. Some American employees described their experiences at TSMC Phoenix as demanding and overwhelming, mentioning excessive workloads, prolonged working hours, and resource shortages.
It’s also worth noting a Taiwanese YouTube channel’s perspective on this issue, which accused American workers of not being adequately productive and overusing their phones at work. However, this claim remains unverified.
Responding to concerns about TSMC’s workplace culture, Mark Liu, TSMC’s chair, emphasized that the company would not mandate its Taiwanese work culture upon its American employees. Instead, he conveyed the company’s openness to adapting to a new work culture, provided its foundational values remain unaltered.
Yet, concerns over a perceived skills gap aren’t new for TSMC. In 2022, Chang articulated a deficit in manufacturing expertise within the US workforce. Drawing a parallel with TSMC’s Oregon plant, he highlighted that production costs there were 50% higher than in Taiwan, even after various interventions.
The Arizona Pipe Trades 469 Union countered this narrative, alleging that TSMC is undervaluing Arizona’s skilled labor. The union initiated a petition to prevent the company from bringing in more Taiwanese workers, arguing that it contradicts the CHIPS Act’s purpose, which aims to create jobs for American workers.
While TSMC refrained from commenting on specific cultural concerns, the company confirmed its commitment to hiring local Arizona workers. The firm explained that the added Taiwanese employees are intended for short-term support, especially during the critical phases of the facility’s construction.
Economist Adam Ozimek, analyzing the situation, suggested that the American workforce could potentially fulfill the job requirements but might take longer due to differences in experience.