Start students early to build semiconductor talent pipeline
Experiential learning combined with an emphasis on how chips can solve vital national security problems can help ease an expected worker shortage, one expert said.
As states ready themselves to take advantage of the expected boom in semiconductor manufacturing, they could face a challenge of a lack of workers to fill the roles needed to make those chips.
But according to one expert, a way to reduce the expected workforce crunch is to educate high school and college students about why working in the semiconductor industry is valuable and start those students earlier with experiential learning that makes it real.
State and local governments are already positioning themselves to take advantage of the $54.2 billion in subsidies and research and development in the CHIPS and Science Act, which passed last year. Many see the opportunity to boost their economies and nurture an ecosystem around new factories including workforce development, while the law’s funding of 20 regional technology and innovation hubs also holds similar promise.
Industry leaders said the legislation has already sparked huge investment. Robert Casanova, director of industry statistics and economic policy for the Semiconductor Industry Association, said in a December report that the CHIPS Act has already prompted $200 billion in private investment and created 44,000 new “high-quality” jobs.
But it is not all going to be plain sailing. Deloitte and McKinsey both said the industry faces shortages of tens of thousands of skilled workers, which could result in manufacturers being unable to hit their production goals.
And Michel Kinsy, center director at Arizona State University’s Secure, Trusted, and Assured Microelectronics (STAM) Center and an associate professor in the ASU School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence, said the time is right to get students immersed in all that semiconductor manufacturing has to offer.
“We have a shortage [of workers], but it is a consequence of how we have always tried to present semiconductors and microelectronics,” Kinsy said last week during GovExec’s Cyber Summit. “I believe that a lot of students are interested in the field, and the applications of it.”
Kinsy said his own experience drives the belief in experiential learning. He said the “light went on'' after he was exposed to radar signal processing, and the same opportunities exist to shape a new generation of semiconductor professionals. Now, the STAM Center offers summer programs as well as undergraduate and postgraduate study in its six research laboratories, and targets applications important to national security.
The goal should be to “demystify the environment” for students as early as high school, and show that they can solve problems of immense importance to the country, not just focus on ways to use semiconductors to make modern life more convenient.
“[The Defense Department has] some of the most challenging problems, it is so exciting to be part of, as you are sitting on the front row of very amazing problems,” Kinsy said. “How do we tell a lot of youngsters that there are great problems out there that you can actually go and solve, that is not just about how I can order a pizza in under five minutes. How do we present these national security problems to a younger generation?”
Kinsy said the CHIPS and Science Act is an “excellent start” that he hopes will diversify suppliers and manufacturers of semiconductors, and make the United States less reliant on China, South Korea and Taiwan, which currently dominate the international chip supply chain.
Kinsy also said the law has “energized” small- and medium-sized domestic businesses in the sector that were “lost or not supported.” And getting students interested early will help states build their workforce in the space, as they “need a robust pipeline of talent to actually create the ecosystem” promised by the legislation, he added.
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