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U.S. Semiconductor Industry Faces Talent Gap Amidst Massive Investment
Re-shoring Semiconductor Manufacturing and the Talent Challenge
The U.S. semiconductor industry is experiencing a significant shift as manufacturers commit to re-shoring their operations. This move, catalyzed by the signing of the CHIPS and Science Act by President Joe Biden, has led to a massive investment of $231 billion towards building chip manufacturing hubs on American soil. However, as companies break ground on these ambitious projects, they are encountering a significant obstacle - a shortage of skilled workers.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world's largest contract chipmaker, has had to delay production at its $40 billion Arizona plant due to this talent gap. TSMC Arizona President Brian Harrison stated that the company is still actively seeking skilled tradespeople to operate their advanced, U.S.-specific equipment.
The Controversy Over Imported Talent
To address this issue, TSMC has begun importing workers from Taiwan to handle the high-tech equipment and train U.S. workers. However, this strategy has attracted criticism. The Arizona Pipe Trades 469 union, for instance, accuses TSMC of favoring Taiwanese workers over local ones, alleging an attempt to exploit cheap labor. Harrison, however, refutes this, arguing that it is more costly to bring workers from Taiwan and provide them with a fair U.S. salary, relocation, housing, and support.
The Future of the U.S. Chip Industry and the Talent Gap
With a significant portion of the semiconductor supply chain based overseas, the U.S. faces a shortage of qualified workers to staff these facilities. A recent study from Oxford Economics and the Semiconductor Industry Association projects that the U.S. chip industry will grow by nearly 115,000 jobs by 2030. However, it also predicts that 67,000 of these jobs, particularly those for technicians, computer scientists, and engineers, risk going unfilled due to a lack of educational training programs and school funding.
Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger recognizes the need for a better-skilled workforce but also points out the challenges in achieving this. He suggests that companies like TSMC, which are not as experienced in operating globally, may struggle more than global companies like Samsung.
Efforts to Bridge the Talent Gap
In response to this challenge, over 50 community colleges have announced new or expanded semiconductor workforce programs since the CHIPS Act was passed. Furthermore, student applications for full-time jobs posted by semiconductor firms have surged by 79% in the 2022-2023 academic year. Many chip firms are also investing heavily in building their talent pipeline through collaborations with local middle schools, high schools, community colleges, and universities.
For instance, semiconductor manufacturer GlobalFoundries has partnered with the Georgia Institute of Technology and Purdue University for semiconductor research and education. However, CEO Tom Caulfield acknowledges that there is still more work to be done, particularly as the industry aims to double U.S. manufacturing capacity over the next decade.
Implications for New Businesses Amidst the Semiconductor Talent Gap
The talent gap in the U.S. semiconductor industry presents both challenges and opportunities for new businesses. As the industry commits to a massive re-shoring effort, the demand for skilled workers is set to skyrocket. This could pose a significant hurdle for new businesses in the sector, particularly those that lack the resources to compete with larger firms for a limited pool of talent.
However, this challenge also presents an opportunity. New businesses could position themselves as key players in addressing the talent gap, either by developing innovative training programs or by partnering with educational institutions to nurture the next generation of semiconductor professionals.
Furthermore, the controversy surrounding the importation of talent could open doors for new businesses to differentiate themselves. By committing to hiring and training local talent, these businesses could gain a competitive edge and contribute to the growth of the domestic semiconductor workforce.
In conclusion, while the talent gap in the U.S. semiconductor industry is a significant challenge, it also offers unique opportunities for new businesses. By taking a proactive approach to talent development, these businesses can contribute to the industry's growth while also securing their own success.
Article First Published at: https://www.cnbc.com/2023/08/09/us-chip-sector-talent-gap-emerges-as-makers-spend-billions.html
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