But those subsidies, as well as new tax credits for the chip industry, were eventually sent to Biden’s desk in late July. Intel isn’t the only company that has promised to supercharge US projects once the money comes in — Samsung, for example, is suggesting that it expand its new $17 billion chip plant outside Austin, Texas for about $ 200 billion investment. Lawmakers are already using subsidies as an important step towards an American renaissance in high-tech manufacturing.
Quietly, however, industry lobbyists and national security experts as well as many of those same lawmakers fear that all chip subsidies in the world will fall flat without enough highly skilled STEM workers. And they accuse Congress of failing to seize many opportunities to address the problem.
STEM help wanted
In Columbus, a few miles from the Jonestown area where Intel is breaking ground, most executives don’t mince words: tech workers needed to staff two microchip factories, let alone eight, required in the area. levels are not present.
“We need a STEM workforce,” acknowledged John Husted, the Republican lieutenant governor of Ohio.
But Husted and others say they are optimistic that the network of higher education institutions spread across Columbus—including Ohio State University and Columbus State Community College—could rapidly grow the region’s workforce.
“I think we’re made for this,” said David Harrison, president of Columbus State Community College. He highlighted repeated refusals by Intel executives that 70 percent of the 3,000 jobs needed to fill the first two factories would be “technician-level” jobs that require a two-year associate degree. “These are our jobs,” Harrison said.
However, Harrison is concerned about how quickly he and other higher education leaders will convince thousands of students to sign up for required STEM courses and join Intel after graduation. The first two factories are expected to be fully operational within three years, and will require a considerable number of workers before that. He said that his university still lacks the necessary infrastructure for instruction on chip manufacturing – “we’re missing some wafer processing, clean rooms, those kinds of things” – and explained that recent funding Provided by Intel and the National Science Foundation will not be sufficient. The state of Columbus will need more support from Washington.
“I don’t know if there’s a great Plan B right now,” Harrison said, adding that the new facilities will run for “tens of millions.”
The lack of native STEM talent is not unique to the Columbus area. Across the country, especially in areas where the chip industry plans to relocate, officials are troubled by the perceived shortage of skilled technicians. In February, Taiwanese Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation cited a shortage of skilled workers When announcing a six-month delay in the move-in date for its new plant in Arizona.
“Whether it’s a licensure program, a two-year program or a Ph.D., there is a shortage of high-tech STEM talent at all levels,” Phillips said. The NSB member described the “missing millions of people who aren’t moving to STEM fields—which are basically closed, even starting in K-12s, because they’re not exposed in a way that makes them draw in the area.”
Industry groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers have long argued that a two-pronged approach is necessary when it comes to workforce in the high-tech sector: reevaluating immigration policy while investing heavily in workforce development.
Both the abandoned House and Senate competitiveness bills included provisions that increased federal support for STEM education and training. Among other things, the House bill would have expanded Pell Grant eligibility for students pursuing career-training programs.
“We’ve encouraged degrees for decades and not necessarily skills,” said Robin Borstling, NAM’s vice president of infrastructure, innovation and human resource policy. “There are manufacturing jobs today that can be filled with six weeks of training, or six months, or six years; We need all of the above. ,
But those provisions were rescinded when the Senate leadership decided that a conference between the two chambers on the bills was too heavy to reach agreement before the August recess.
Katie Spyker, managing director of government affairs at the National Skills Coalition, said the abandoned Pell Grant detail shows that Congress “has not responded to the needs of workers the way we need them.” Amid criticisms that the existing workforce development system is cumbersome and ineffective, the decision to scrap the new upgrades is a continuation of a trend of disinvestment in workers who expect to acquire the skills needed to meet employer demand.
“And it becomes an issue that only adds up over time,” Spiker said. “As technology changes, people need to change and develop their skills.”
“If we’re not skilled people now, we won’t have people who are able to grow and develop skills in building the next generation, which we will do five years from now.”
Congress eventually sent the Small Chips and Science Act — which includes chip subsidies and tax credits, $200 million to develop the microchip workforce, and a slate of R&D provisions — to the president’s desk in late July. The bill is expected to increase the domestic STEM pool (at least on a margin). But this is probably less than the generational investments many believe are needed.
“You can put some dent in it in six years,” Phillips said. “But if you really want to solve the problem, it’s close to investing 20 years. And this country’s ability to invest in anything for 20 years is not extraordinary.”
immigration arms race
The microchip industry is in the midst of a global reshuffle that is expected to last for the better part of the decade — and the US isn’t the only country walking the red carpet. Europe, Canada, Japan and other regions are also concerned about their safety, and are preparing sweeteners for microchip firms to set up shop across their borders. Putting together an effective STEM workforce in a short time frame will be key to persuading companies to choose the US instead.
This will be challenging at the technician level, which represents about 70 percent of workers in most microchip factories. But those jobs only require a two-year degree—and over a six-year period, it’s possible that continuing education and recruiting efforts could produce enough STEM workers to at least keep the lights on.
It’s a different story altogether for PhDs and master’s degrees, which take longer to earn and which industry representatives say are a small but important component of a factory’s workforce.
Intel’s head of global STEM research, policy and initiatives Gabriela Gonzalez said that about 15 percent of factory workers must have doctoral or master’s degrees in areas such as materials and electrical engineering, computer science, physics and chemistry. Students coming out of US universities with those degrees are largely foreign nationals – and increasingly, they are graduating without an immigration status that lets them work in the US, and there is no way to obtain that status. There is no clear path.