Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Monday, September 28, 2020
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US Chip Industry Launches Apprenticeships 

As efforts ramp up to revive U.S. chip manufacturing, the nation’s largest pure-play foundry services provider is teaming with an industry group to advance a workforce training program designed to bridge the electronics talent gap.

SEMI, the industry group representing IC design and equipment vendors, said this week it is launching an apprenticeship program in collaboration with GlobalFoundries. The partners said Tuesday (Aug. 11) the initiative will identify skills gaps and provide training based on chip industry requirements. The apprenticeships stem from a U.S. electronics workforce development partnership with the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Labor Department and the State University of New York’s Polytechnic Institute.

Apprenticeship courses will be offered online from Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y., just south of GlobalFoundries’ 300-mm Fab 8 in Malta, N.Y. The curriculum is based on SEMI’s skills standard developed with industry input and endorsed by the Labor Department.

Ultimately, the workforce training initiative would “boost the semiconductor manufacturing talent pool,” said Ron Sampson, general manager of GlobalFoundries’ U.S. fab operations.

Those hardware skills are increasing hard to find with the exodus of chip manufacturing to Asia over the last several decades. Legislation aimed a rebooting U.S. chip making and reducing supply chain dependencies with China calls for heavy investments in areas like chip packaging, test and assembly. Improving those chip-making skills are increasingly seen as one way of moving up the semiconductor learning curve while providing skills required by Globalfoundries and other domestic fabs.

The CHIPS for America Act currently moving through the congressional budget process includes a provision directing the U.S. Commerce Department to work with the Manufacturing Institute to conduct research and promote workforce training.

The CHIPS Act and similar proposals were consolidated and attached to the Fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), among the few individual budget measures annually approved by Congress. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, a co-sponsor of the chip manufacturing legislation, pushed through several amendments to the pending NDAA. Among them was a provision directing the Labor Department to “work with the private sector on workforce training and apprenticeships in semiconductor manufacturing.”

“The economic and national security risks posed by relying too heavily on foreign semiconductor suppliers cannot be ignored,” Schumer said during a recent visit to Globalfoundries’ Malta fab.

“Now is the time to double down on semiconductor manufacturing in the U.S. where it began more than half a century ago," added Globalfoundries CEO Tom Caulfield.

The workforce initiative is part of a growing effort to revive U.S. chip manufacturing as China invests billions in an indigenous semiconductor manufacturing capability. The Commerce Department issued strict new export controls this spring aimed at cutting off Chinese access to advanced chip design tools and manufacturing gear.

SEMI, which represents equipment suppliers, said its workforce training effort allows potential employers like GlobalFoundries to pursue government-certified apprenticeships while qualifying for reimbursement of training expenses.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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