Intel aims to patch semiconductor skills gap with one-year cert program

New fabs won't achieve much without specialized staff to fill them

Intel and community colleges in Ohio are introducing a one-year "stackable, shareable and transferrable" semiconductor certificate program to address the skills crunch looming on the horizon.

This follows research by the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) published in July, which found the workforce across the US sector is projected to grow 33 percent from 345,000 jobs in 2023 to 460,000 by 2030.

Yet of these 115,000 new jobs, around 67,000 or 58 percent of them (or 80 percent of new technical jobs) "risk going unfilled at current degree completion rates," the SIA warned. "Of the unfilled jobs, 39 percent will be technicians, most of whom will have certificates or two-year degrees; 35 percent will be engineers with four-degrees or computer scientists; and 26 percent will be engineers at the masters or PhD level."

This creates something of a hurdle for industry to surmount in the US alone.

"Closing the talent gap is critical to the success of the US economy and the semiconductor industry. Intel is facing this challenge head-on by creating specific regional programs in partnership with local community colleges," the chip giant said.

Intel is building fabrication plants in Ohio and Arizona, and previously warned of the skilled worker shortfalls in those locations that it thinks will number in the tens of thousands. Intel reckons the Ohio project alone is going to create 3,000 Intel jobs and 7,000 in construction, as well as thousands more in the broader ecosystem of equipment and materials suppliers.

Part of the problem is that technician training for chips has "waned over the years" as companies plowed more investment into STEM education and research for bachelor, masters and PhD programs, Intel said.

Upping certification boot camps, apprenticeships, and other training schemes at community colleges "is an effective way to help close the workforce gap for technicians, SIA found," said Intel.

"To support the Ohio fabs, Intel has taken key lessons from these other regions to reinvent the way technician education is developed. Intel learned that financial situations and confidence in math and science skills can be a barrier to students entering a technical two-year program.

"To address this, community colleges in Ohio, led by Columbus State Community College, created the industry's first stackable, shareable and transferable one-year semiconductor technician certificate program. The program launches in 2023-24 to help build the talent pipeline."

The colleges include Columbus State Community College, Marion Technical College, Rhodes State College, North Central State College, Central Ohio Technical College, Clark State, Northwestern State, Stark State, Zane State, Owens Community College, and Lorian Community College.

The course includes Introduction to Manufacturing, Semiconductor 101 and Vacuum Systems. The math and science content is embedded in the course under the one-year certificate program.

"In addition, the one-year certificate program is integrated with technical centers, community college programs and undergraduate university programs, allowing students to seamlessly transfer technician certificate credits. Furthermore, by concentrating the key skills into a one-year program, the financial burden on students is reduced."

The technical skills include hand tool basics; mechanical systems; math; electrical basics and electronics; chemical and gases. Professional skills will include knowledge of semiconductors (defects, contamination, safety, lean manufacturing); technical and professional comms skills; and problem solving.

Intel is also creating two programs with the National Science Foundation covering "Enhancing Engineering Technology and Advanced Semiconductor Manufacturing Technician Education and Future of Semiconductors."

The Center for Security and Emerging Technology think tank said in March last year that the US government should also consider importing skills talent from Asia-headquartered businesses such as TSMC and Samsung. Yet those businesses are also wrestling with the same challenges as Intel.

TSMC, the world's largest chip contract manufacturer, has previously warned its own fabrication plant being built in Arizona is behind schedule due to a shortage of skilled workers.

CEO Mark Liu said in July: "Our fab in Arizona started construction in April 2021 with an aggressive schedule. We are now entering a critical phase of handling and installing the most advanced and dedicated equipment. However, we are encountering certain challenges, as there is an insufficient amount of skilled workers with the specialized expertise required for equipment installation in a semiconductor grade facility." ®

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