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Pathways for Building a Robust Semiconductor Talent Ecosystem

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By Gabriela Cruz Thompson, Senior Directory of University Research and Collaboration, Intel Labs 

I recently had the pleasure of convening leaders from the semiconductor industry, research institutions, and the U.S. government to discuss the unique roles these three sectors play in developing future STEM talent and filling current gaps in the semiconductor workforce.  

Our top-notch participants included:  

  • Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) 
  • Shari Liss, Executive Director of the SEMI Foundation 
  • Erwin Gianchandani, Assistant Director for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships at the National Science Foundation 
  • Amy Nice, Assistant Director for International Science and Technology Workforce at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy 
  • Jason Oxman, President and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI)  

The CHIPS and Science Act sparked major progress toward advancing the U.S.’s role in the future of global technology innovation, particularly in semiconductors. As Rep. Bonamici said in her opening remarks, “The future is bright for advanced manufacturing in Oregon and our nation, thanks to the hard-fought passage of the CHIPS and Science Act, a thriving and dynamic public-private partnership, and strong leadership at the state and federal level.”  

Ensuring U.S. leadership in semiconductor research, design, manufacturing, and packaging requires a reliable workforce, including all levels of technical workers with critical STEM skills. And, that workforce needs to reflect diversity, panelists of Tech + Policy @ Intel: Building a Robust Semiconductor Talent Ecosystem agreed. 

The industry’s role in making workforce diversity a reality will require partnerships in academia, where Oxman and ITI have a particular focus, as well as public policy that advances diversity in STEM education. 

We’ve made some progress, but it’s not nearly enough,” Oxman said. “The tech industry has a hard story to tell about the investments we’ve made in encouraging diversity—in race and gender. It’s not an attractive history to look at, and it puts more pressure on us to fix it.” 

Immigration policy is one approach to advance diversity in STEM. And, a lot of the “nooks and crannies” available under our current immigration system are oriented toward advanced STEM degree talent, Nice said. The Biden administration announced new policies earlier this year using the J1 visa category that it hopes will enable individuals who are pursuing advanced degrees in the U.S. to be able to stay here. Already, there’s interest from the University of Alabama, a number of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and the State University of New York system to collaborate with their local industries on these efforts, she said. 

“Our mission in the technology and national security corner of the White House is to attract and retain [talent],” Nice said. 

The panelists also addressed the role of alternative workforce pathways and partnerships that bring together companies, governments, and academic institutions of all kinds, including state, local, and tribal governments, as well as research-based, minority-serving, and community college education institutions.  

The days of a linear progression from high school graduation, to college, to a degree, to grad school are over, Gianchandani said. 

“We need to design approaches that meet people where they are,” he said. Folks are in and out of school and in and out of the workforce, and they're using the experiences that they have as a springboard for the next set of career choices, including education and trainings that they might pursue.” 

Experiential learning is another focus, and the industry needs to be ready to embrace apprenticeships as alternative pathways, Liss said. 

“One of the most critical partnerships right now is opening up communication with industry about the needs and competencies that are most critical for students to be successful,” she said. “We need those alternative pathways. We have to be open to the apprenticeship models. We have to think about two-year schools, about high school students entering full-time jobs after graduation, and we have to figure out how are we going to fill these gaps we're seeing that are going to continue to expand.” 

The CHIPS and Science Act unlocks investment to further drive the research, education, and workforce development efforts needed to support semiconductor industry expansion. But it’s clear more work needs to be done to strengthen and build the semiconductor workforce. Intel is grateful for our long-term partnerships with SEMI, ITI, and the NSF to further STEM education and R&D in the field, which is why we support fully funding the NSF’s 2023 budget as authorized by the CHIPS and Science Act. As an industry, we must continue to do our part to build a robust semiconductor talent ecosystem and ensure a future workforce of innovators. 

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