US Invests in Semiconductor Workforce Amid Talent Crisis

10-07-2024 | By Astute Electronics

In an ambitious effort to address a critical labour shortage threatening domestic chip production, the Biden administration has launched a new workforce development programme funded by the 2022 CHIPS and Science Act. This initiative aims to train and develop a skilled workforce to support the growing US semiconductor industry, set to receive a significant investment influx due to the act’s incentives.

New Programme to Boost Semiconductor Workforce

The programme, described as a workforce partner alliance, will utilise some of the $5 billion in federal funding set aside for a new National Semiconductor Technology Centre (NSTC). The NSTC plans to award grants of up to $2 million to as many as 10 workforce development projects nationwide. These projects will focus on training technicians and other skilled workers essential to the semiconductor industry, particularly those in roles that do not require a bachelor’s degree, which account for roughly 60% of new semiconductor positions, according to McKinsey.

The NSTC will launch additional application processes in the coming months, with officials determining the total spending level once all proposals have been reviewed. This initiative represents the CHIPS Act’s first workforce-focused funding opportunity, underlining the government’s recognition of the critical role a skilled workforce plays in realising the legislation’s goals.

Addressing the Looming Talent Shortage

This move comes as industry experts warn of a looming talent shortage in the sector. The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) predicts a shortfall of 67,000 workers by 2030, a figure that could significantly impact the projected 115,000 new jobs the industry expects to add by then. Some estimates are even more pessimistic, suggesting the gap could be as high as 90,000 technicians by 2030, according to Bloomberg. With the US aiming to produce 20% of the world’s most advanced chips by then, this shortage could severely hamper the country’s semiconductor ambitions.

GlobalFoundries, the third-largest chipmaker globally, is already feeling the pressure. The company is actively seeking to fill hundreds of roles worldwide and hires thousands annually, a pace it expects to continue. “Keeping the same size workforce is not an option for the industry as demand soars,” said Pradheepa Raman, GlobalFoundries’ Chief People Officer.

Education and Upskilling: Keys to Success

“It is imperative that we develop a domestic semiconductor workforce ecosystem that can support the industry’s anticipated growth,” said Michael Barnes, senior manager of workforce development programmes at Natcast, the non-profit operating the NSTC.

The CHIPS Act has already spurred significant activity in the educational sector, with over 50 community colleges announcing new or expanded semiconductor-related programmes. Major chipmakers like Intel, TSMC, Samsung, and Micron have each allocated $40 million to $50 million specifically for workforce development as part of their CHIPS Act awards.

GlobalFoundries, for example, has launched the sector’s first registered apprenticeship programme, which is full-time and paid with benefits, with training at no cost to the apprentice. It is completed in two years or less and requires only a high school diploma or equivalent and an interest in the mechanical field.

The Scale of the Challenge

Despite these efforts, the challenge remains daunting. Deloitte estimates that the global semiconductor industry will need over one million additional skilled workers by 2030, representing a significant annual recruitment need. This demand extends beyond the US, affecting key players worldwide and threatening to impede the sector’s growth and innovation.

In the US, the challenge is compounded by fewer than 100,000 graduate students enrolling in electrical engineering and computer science each year. Even with substantial investments in education and training, the sector will likely struggle to find enough skilled workers to meet its needs.

Looking Ahead

While the government’s new programme and industry initiatives are steps in the right direction, a sustained and multifaceted effort is needed to bridge the talent gap. This includes investing in education and training, as well as addressing broader issues affecting the industry’s attractiveness to potential employees, such as career advancement opportunities and workplace flexibility. The future of the US semiconductor industry depends on the success of these efforts.

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By Astute Electronics

Astute Electronics are one of the world’s most knowledgeable, quality-driven experts in franchised ‘Hi-Rel’ electronics distribution, global procurement and supply-chain management.