The Talent Gap: How 7 Colleges are Taking on the Semiconductor Labor Shortage

Here’s a list of some of the most prominent initiatives that have been launched across the country to help bolster the university pipeline and grow the domestic semiconductor workforce.

 The Talent Gap: How 7 Colleges are Taking on the Semiconductor Labor Shortage

After pandemic-related supply chain issues led to a global semiconductor shortage and crippled the U.S. economy to the tune of well over $200 billion in 2021 alone, the Biden Administration made a massive commitment to promoting semiconductor manufacturing on American shores. 

Signed into law in August 2022, the CHIPS Act allocates over $50 billion to the US semiconductor industry. This unprecedented financial boon has sparked a “fab renaissance” in the US, with industry titans like Intel, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), and Samsung announcing the construction of major facilities throughout the nation. One rapidly emerging concern, however, is whether America will have enough skilled workers to meet the spiking demand for jobs in the coming years. It remains the chief potential spoiler for what might otherwise be a dynamic domestic resurgence of a vital global industry. 

To address this looming semiconductor labor shortage — which has come to light through various studies and reports over the last year or so — semiconductor manufacturers, state governments, and universities are working together to jump-start teaching, training, and programming throughout the higher education landscape. Below we’ve compiled a list of some of the most prominent initiatives that have been launched across the country to help bolster the university pipeline and grow the domestic semiconductor workforce. (Note: This list is by no means exhaustive, nor does not it include the $45 million in grants being awarded by the National Science Foundation to various universities.)

1. School: The Ohio State University

State: Ohio

Funder: Intel

Investment: $4.5 million

What It Covers: In October of last year, Intel awarded three grants totaling $4.5 million to The Ohio State University and a number of other partnering institutions. Using $3 million of the funding, Ohio State will work with several other colleges and universities in the Buckeye State to establish the Center for Advanced Semiconductor Fabrication Research and Education (CAFE). CAFE will be an interdisciplinary research and education center focused on developing a semiconductor manufacturing workforce at the state level through experiential learning programs. Other participating institutions include Ohio University, the University of Cincinnati, Oberlin College, and Kenyon College. 

A second grant of just under $1.5 million will be going toward a partnership spearheaded by Ohio State to cultivate greater diversity in the semiconductor manufacturing industry. Christened the Ohio Partnership for a Diverse and Inclusive Semiconductor Ecosystem and Workforce, this statewide program will be a collaboration between higher education institutions of all stripes, including historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and technical centers. The partnership will pursue its objective of diversifying the semiconductor workforce in Ohio through the development of new curricula aimed at addressing educational gaps, expanded introductory coursework, and virtual reality access to semiconductor facilities and technology, including cleanrooms. 

Finally, Intel has awarded a third grant to an Ohio State team focused on innovative new quantum computing applications. One of the project’s focuses will be incorporating Intel’s Quantum Software Developer Kit (SDK) into course curricula. 

2. School: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign 

State: Illinois

Funder: Samsung Austin Semiconductor 

Investment: $1 million annual contribution

What It Covers: This past August, Samsung Austin Semiconductor announced what it’s calling the 5-star workforce development plan. This nationwide effort seeks to cultivate a semiconductor manufacturing pipeline by collaborating with K-12 schools and higher education institutions to facilitate participation in engineering programs and other STEM fields. 

As part of the workforce development plan, the chipmaker’s annual commitment to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Grainger College of Engineering gives the school an opportunity to enhance its resources and programming for students interested in the semiconductor field. Specifically, the engineering school will introduce the “Samsung Semiconductor Technology Program,” which will provide 50 scholars with vital academic support as they grow their technical skills and expertise through UIUC’s new semiconductor minor.

3. School: Michigan State University and Lansing Community College 

State: Michigan 

Funder: Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC)

Investment: $3.6 million

What It Covers: In October 2023, the MEDC announced that it would invest $3.6 million to advance education and career opportunities in the regional semiconductor industry. The funding initiative is actually spread across a number of Michigan schools, including not only Michigan State University and Lansing Community College but also Wayne State University, Michigan Technological University, and Oakland University. 

MSU, which will receive $148,000, will be putting its funds toward a program for Michigan middle and high school students aimed at putting the semiconductor industry on the radar of teenagers that might have previously considered the field exceedingly complex or otherwise out of reach. According to Leo Kempel, dean of the MSU College of Engineering, the funds will “promote career readiness and semiconductor industry awareness among Michigan middle and high school students.” 

Lansing Community College, meanwhile, is using its $300,000 in funding to start a “Technician Quick Start Boot Camp.” The 10-day program will leave participants with a certification that qualifies them to work as an entry-level technician in the semiconductor industry. 

4. School: College of Western Idaho  

State: Idaho

Funder: Idaho Workforce Development Council (IWDC)

Investment: $4.2 million

What It Covers: Last fall, semiconductor manufacturing firm Micron Technology, Inc., which specializes in DRAM, NAND, and NOR memory, revealed plans to start construction on a new $15 billion fabrication plant in Boise, Idaho. A little over a year later, the Idaho Workforce Development Council has awarded the College of Western Idaho $4.2 million to help the state build up the skilled workforce necessary to staff that facility and buoy the rest of Idaho’s thriving semiconductor ecosystem. 

The College of Western Idaho will use the windfall to expand its Advanced Mechatronics Engineering Technology program. AMET, an interdisciplinary degree combining elements of mechanical and computer engineering with software development, trains students to work as technicians in semiconductor manufacturing and other advanced technology fields. According to Wendi Secrist, Executive Director of IWDC, the funding will “double the capacity” of the CWI program. Students enrolled in AMET can apply for an apprenticeship with Micron Technology, Inc. at the company’s headquarters in Boise. 

5. School: Virginia Tech  

State: Virginia

Funder: Growth and Opportunity for Virginia (GO Virginia)

Investment: $3.3 million

What It Covers: GO Virginia, an economic development initiative led by state business leaders, will be providing seed funding for Virginia Tech and a broad coalition of colleges and universities to establish the Virginia Alliance for Semiconductor Technology (VAST). VAST will be headquartered at the Virginia Tech Research Center, but also feature satellite nodes at various other institutions. Its central aim will be to enhance efficiency and collaboration across the state’s semiconductor and nanotechnology ecosystems. To achieve this, VAST is creating a network of facilities that will allow students, professionals, and small businesses to utilize labs, cleanrooms, and microelectronic equipment in a way that promotes connectivity and broadens access to these highly specialized spaces. 

In addition to this unique facilities network, VAST will also introduce the Fast Track to Semiconductor Careers, an adult learning initiative featuring three 10-week certificate programs. These include Chip Fabrication and Nano Characterization, Semiconductor Packaging and Characterization, and Semiconductor Equipment Maintenance and Repair. The Fast Track to Semiconductor Careers, which is particularly focused on reaching veterans and underserved communities, hopes to train 600 adult learners over a two-year span. 

6. School: University of Texas at Austin 

State: Texas

Funder: Samsung Electronics and Samsung Austin Semiconductor 

Investment: $3.7 million

What It Covers: UT Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering is actually receiving two separate grants from the semiconductor manufacturing giant. The first, from Samsung Electronics, is a $2.7 million contribution with the objective of helping the school expand its semiconductor industry pipeline by moving more students into the field. The grant will fund scholarships for undergraduates and fellowships for graduate students pursuing careers in the semiconductor industry, and provide academic support for capstone projects. Part of the contribution will also go to modernizing the school’s Fab Lab, allowing more students to be trained in the laboratory and facilitating new research and innovation. 

In addition to the grant from Samsung Electronics, Samsung Austin Semiconductor will be moving forward with a $1 million contribution as part of its 5-star workforce development plan. The aforementioned initiative will promote semiconductor curricula throughout academia and bolster the pipeline into the field. Both grants were announced in September.  

7. School: Georgia Tech  

State: Georgia

Funder: Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC) and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) 

Investment: $65.7 million

What It Covers: The substantial investment in Georgia Tech represents something dramatically different than the funding provided by the likes of major chipmakers and state agencies. Last year, SRC, a semiconductor research consortium, and DARPA, a research agency housed within the US Department of Defense, announced a program called the Joint University Microelectronics Program 2.0 (JUMP 2.0). An ambitious project with a broad scope and far-reaching implications for both the US economy and national defense, JUMP 2.0 aims to fund university research that will advance “broad classes of electronics systems for both commercial and military applications.”  

More specifically, JUMP 2.0 is funding “high-risk, high-payoff research spanning seven thematically structured centers” dedicated to advancing critical technologies of the future. Georgia Tech was selected to run two of these research centers, focused on cognition and intelligent sensing to action, respectively. The cognition research center, which is called the Center for the Co-Design of Cognitive Systems, or CoCoSys, will be focused on advancing AI capabilities for a host of critical applications. The intelligent sensing to action hub — known as the Center on Cognitive Multispectral Sensors, or CogniSense — will research methods for developing electronic sensors that are more dynamic and adaptive than current technology allows. Both will be based within the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). 

Collectively, these two Georgia Tech-based research centers powerfully demonstrate just how vital and diversified semiconductor research has become in this decade. By investing so heavily in these hyper-specialized research areas, DARPA and the Department of Defense are making emphatically clear the outsized role these technologies are going to play in everything from radar and weapons systems to future global microelectronics wars.

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