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US semiconductor boom faces labor shortage

US semiconductor boom faces labor shortage


Maxon Wille, an 18-year-old from Surprise, Arizona, was driving down Interstate 17 last year when he noticed a massive construction site: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company hard at work on its new factory in Phoenix.

A few weeks later, while watching YouTube, an advertisement appeared for a 10-day local community college program that trains people to become semiconductor technicians. He graduated this month and now hopes to work at the factory once it opens.

I can see that’s the next big thing, Mr. Wille said.

Semiconductor makers say they will need to attract more workers like Mr. Wille to staff factories under construction in the United States. America is on the cusp of a semiconductor manufacturing boom, bolstered by billions of dollars the federal government is pumping into the sector. President Biden had said the funding would create thousands of well-paying jobs, but the question arises: will there be enough workers to fill them?

My biggest fear is investing in all this infrastructure and not having the people to work on it, said Shari Liss, executive director of the SEMI Foundation, a nonprofit arm of SEMI, an association that represents businesses. electronics manufacturing. The impact could be really substantial if we don’t figure out how to create excitement and interest in this industry.

Lawmakers passed the CHIPS Act of 2022 with lofty ambitions to turn the United States into a semiconductor powerhouse, in part to reduce Americas dependence on foreign nations for the tiny chips that power everything, from dishwashers to computers to cars. The law provided $39 billion to fund the construction of new and expanded semiconductor facilities, and manufacturers who want a share of the subsidies have already announced expansions across the country.

More than 50 new facility projects have been announced since the CHIPS Act was introduced, and private companies have pledged more than $210 billion in investment, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association.

But that investment has rushed headlong into the tightest labor market in years, with employers across the country struggling to find workers. Semiconductor makers have long struggled to hire workers due to a lack of industry awareness and too few students entering relevant academic fields. Company officials say they expect it will become even more difficult to hire for a range of critical positions, including construction workers who build the factories, technicians who operate the equipment and the engineers who design the chips.

The U.S. semiconductor industry could face a shortage of about 70,000 to 90,000 workers over the next few years, according to a Deloitte report. McKinsey also projected a shortfall of about 300,000 engineers and 90,000 skilled technicians in the United States by 2030.

Semiconductor makers are struggling to hire more employees, in part because officials say there aren’t enough skilled workers and they have to compete with big tech companies to recruit engineers. Many engineering graduate students in the United States were born overseas, and immigration rules make it difficult to obtain visas to work in the country.

Ronnie Chatterji, the White Houses CHIPS implementation coordinator, said filling the new jobs would be a big challenge, but he was confident Americans would want them as they became more aware of the national expansion of industry.

While it hasn’t been the sexiest job opportunity for people compared to some of the other things they graduate with, it hasn’t been on the radar either, Mr. Chatterji. He added that America would be less prosperous if companies could increase production but lacked the employees to do so.

In an effort to meet labor demand, the Biden administration said this month it would create five initial labor hubs in cities like Phoenix and Columbus, Ohio, to help train more women, people of color and other underrepresented workers in industries like semiconductors. manufacturing.

The administration and company officials have also pushed for changes to better retain foreign-born STEM graduates, but immigration remains a contentious topic in Washington, and few are optimistic about reforms.

Some industry leaders see technology as an antidote, as automation and artificial intelligence can amplify a single engineer’s output, but companies are mostly betting on training programs. Federal officials supported this effort and pointed out that CHIPS funding could be used for workforce development.

Intel, which announced plans to spend $20 billion on two new chip factories in Arizona and more than $20 billion on a new chip manufacturing complex in Ohio, has invested millions in partnerships with community colleges and universities to train technicians and expand relevant programs.

Gabriela Cruz Thompson, director of academic research collaboration at Intel Labs, said the company expects to create 6,700 jobs over the next five to 10 years. About 70% would be for technicians who usually have a two-year diploma or certificate.

She said the industry has faced recruiting challenges for years and is concerned about how many skilled workers are available and talented to fill all of Intel’s new roles.

I am confident, she said. But am I completely certain, 100%? No.

Micron, which has pledged up to $100 billion over the next two decades or more to build a massive chip factory complex in New York, has also rolled out new workforce programs, including those who train veterans and teach middle and high school students about STEM careers. through the flea camps.

Bo Machayo, director of US federal affairs at Micron, said the company expects to need about 9,000 employees after its full rollout in the region.

We understand this is a challenge, but we also see it as an opportunity, he said.

To be considered for federal grants, manufacturers must submit applications to the Department of Commerce that include detailed plans for how they will recruit and retain workers. Companies requesting more than $150 million are expected to provide affordable, high-quality child care.

We don’t think a company can just post a bunch of jobs online and hope the right workforce comes along, said Kevin Gallagher, senior adviser to the Commerce Secretary.

The lack of interest in industry has been evident in academic institutions. Karl Hirschman, director of microelectronics engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology, said the university is far from reaching peak enrollment for its microelectronics engineering degree program, which prepares students for careers related to semi- drivers. Enrollment averages about 20 new undergraduate students each year, compared to over 200 for the university’s mechanical engineering program.

Although graduate students with more popular engineering degrees may work in the semiconductor industry, Hirschman said, many of them are more aware of and attracted to tech companies like Google and Facebook.

We don’t have enough students to meet the needs, he said. It will only get more difficult.

Community colleges, universities, and school districts are creating or expanding programs to attract more students to the industry.

In Maricopa County, Arizona, three community colleges have partnered with Intel to offer a fast-start program to prepare students to become entry-level technicians in just 10 days. During the four-hour classes, students learn the basics of chip manufacturing, practice using hand tools, and try on head-to-toe lab coats worn by technicians.

More than 680 students have enrolled in the program since its launch in July, said Leah Palmer, executive director of the Arizona Advanced Manufacturing Institute at Mesa Community College. The program is free for in-state students who complete it and pass a certification test.

In Oregon last year, the Hillsboro School District launched a two-year advanced manufacturing apprenticeship program that allows students ages 16 to 18 to earn high school credits and get paid to work in the manufacturing workshops of companies in the semiconductor industry. Five students are participating, and officials hope to add at least three more to the next cohort, said Claudia Rizo, district youth learning project manager.

Our hope is that the students will have a job offer with the companies if they decide to stay full-time, but that they will also be open to the possibility of pursuing post-secondary education at the college or university level, said Ms. Rizo. .

Universities are also expanding undergraduate and graduate engineering programs. Purdue launched a semiconductor degree program last year and Syracuse, which has worked with Micron and 20 other institutions to improve the related curriculum, plans to increase its engineering enrollment by 50% over the next three to the next five years.

At Onondaga Community College, near the Microns building in New York, officials will offer a new two-year diploma and one-year certificate in electromechanical technology starting this fall. The programs were already underway before Microns announced the construction of the chip factory complex, but would help students gain the qualifications needed to work there, said Timothy Stedman, dean of the colleges of natural and applied sciences. .

Although he feels optimistic, he said interest may be lower than officials had hoped. Enrollment in college electrical and mechanical technology programs has declined significantly from two decades ago as more students have begun to view four-year college degrees as the default path.

We were starting to see the pendulum swing a bit as people realized these were good paying jobs, Mr Stedman said. But I think there is still a lot of work to do.

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.




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