Semiconductor chip manufacturing in the U.S. is in a critical place as the country pours billions into domestic chip production to ease the burden of dependence on importing chips from Asian markets.
This is the U.S.’ biggest push into industrial policy since World War II. However one crucial asset to succeed in domestic semiconductor ship manufacturing is lacking: a skilled labor force. As manufacturers make big pledges to help the U.S. in this endeavor, a shortage of employees from engineers to electricians to pipe fitters is slowing down progress of building microchip fabrication plants—or fabs—before semiconductor manufacturing can begin.
According to Bloomberg, unemployment in the U.S. is at the lowest it has been in more than half a century, while the number of job openings is near an all-time high. The deficit of available US based workers could cause a new wave of offshoring jobs, which is what the Chips and Science Act of 2022 from the Biden-Harris Administration is meant to prevent.
The growing talent shortage
In a study on the 2023 semiconductor industry outlook, in2021, the semiconductor workforce was estimated at more than two million worldwide, but the workforce will need to grow by more than one million additional skilled workers by 2030.
If the U.S. focuses on meeting domestic demand for critical semiconductor applications, another report found that the U.S. will need between 18 and 20 additional fabrication facilities staffed by 70,000 to 90,000 highly skilled personnel.
Micron Technology, a memory and storage solutions producer, is planning to invest $100 billion for a semiconductor manufacturing campus in Clay, New York and is scheduled to start construction next year. A major problem, however, is the lack of skilled workers in the area. Even the nearby Syracuse University might not be able to provide a big enough pipeline for workers to stay in an area with a declining population.
“They’re looking for engineers—lots of different engineers—and so these are folks that are going to have to have a college degree in engineering and there’s going to be various types of engineers that they’re going to be looking for,” said Wall Street Journal reporter Joseph De Avila.
De Avila says that Micron is working with different training centers to try and assist with workforce development. Companies have recently been establishing programs or partnerships to help address skills gaps in the technology field, beyond just semiconductor production. Overall, there’s going to be a 20 percent increase in demand for engineers over the next five years across the U.S., according to the Journal.
Remediating the issue
When seeking a solution for closing the skills gap, organizations have begun looking into various training programs and best practices. Investing in programs that promote diversity and provide opportunities for marginalized groups is one way for organizations to close the gap.
Traditionally, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields have been dominated by men, but in recent years this has shifted to be more inclusive and has opened up more opportunities to fill positions of need.
HCLTech CEO and Managing Director C. Vijayakumar notes that gender diversity is a key strategic priority and that it needs to be integral to the strategy of the company.
“Gender diversity must be viewed as a very important tool to make significant progress in business,” Vijayakumar said, adding that HCLTech has increased its percentage of women in the workforce from 23-24 percent six or seven years ago to more than 30 percent today.
Vijayakumar also stated that it’s not enough to simply hire more women, rather there must be a conscious effort to hire women in important roles and functions.
Along with HCLTech’s Women Lead Mentorship Program, the company also provides other programs to increase diversity in IT roles and up skill workers, including the Find Your Spark internship program and HCLTech’s TechBee Early Career Program.