Semiconductors: A Global Restructuring Needs Skilled People

We are in the midst of a global restructuring of the semiconductor supply chain.

The importance of semiconductors, so vital in powering devices and systems for consumers, industries, and national security, was amplified by shortages during the pandemic. Although it’s been a finely honed and highly specialized global supply chain that has allowed regions to leverage their strengths—the US has excelled in R&D, East Asia in wafer fabrication, and China in assembly and testing—we’ve identified risks in the current model. Governments worldwide are starting to incentivize domestic production to mitigate the risk and it’s a monumental transition.

What role will each of us play in collaborating on an effective domestic response? How will we prepare people for the thousands of new jobs on the horizon?

Money, Money, Money!

With the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, Congress is bolstering American manufacturing, supply chains, and national security, along with investments in future-oriented areas like research and development, science, technology, and the workforce. These efforts focus on maintaining U.S. leadership in emerging industries such as nanotechnology, clean energy, quantum computing, and artificial intelligence. Each of them strengthens the country’s position in the global race for technological supremacy in the 21st century.The CHIPS Act sets aside $39 billion to encourage the expansion of semiconductor manufacturing capacity, attract large-scale investments in advanced technologies such as leading-edge logic and memory, and promote U.S. technical leadership. It earmarks $11 billion for research and development. In a similar stride, India has also committed over $10 billion to stimulate chip manufacturing. 

Scrambling to Respond

Many U.S. companies have launched plans to build new facilities. They’re developing technologies for the production and packaging of semiconductors. According to the Semiconductor Industry Association, U.S. companies have announced plans for 39 new plants, including a $4 billion manufacturing, research, and development facility by Applied Materials in Sunnyvale. There are also plans for 25 expansions of semiconductor-related plants, including a $350 million expansion by Western Digital in Fremont. These two projects are expected to create 2,240 Silicon Valley jobs.

Wanted: Trained Semiconductor Workers

We do not have the skilled workforce to meet this emerging demand.

We’ll need an additional 115,000 new jobs by 2030 to maintain the momentum of semiconductor advancements in the U.S., according to SIA. This would mean a 33% growth in the sector’s workforce. Most of these new positions—58%, including 80% of new technical positions—risk remaining vacant at current degree completion rates. We’ll need people with varying skills. The estimated worker shortfall:

  • 39% will be technicians, primarily with certificates or two-year degrees.
  • 35% will be engineers or computer scientists with four-year degrees. 
  • 26% will be engineers at the master’s or doctorate level. 

Despite a wealth of experts in semiconductor design, we may not be able to meet our needs from the domestic workforce alone. The U.S. lacks expertise in the latest fabrication technologies and the U.S. will probably need to access a global workforce.

California Taking the Lead

To sustain California’s leadership in the semiconductor industry, Gov. Gavin Newsom has allocated $2 million to a Global Entrepreneur in Residence program at the University of California. The initiative attracts and retains international talent by enhancing high-tech sectors such as semiconductors by sponsoring visas for gifted graduates and potential technologists to develop startups under university mentorship. The program targets two opportunities.

  1. It retains foreign-born graduates from California institutions who might otherwise relocate due to visa barriers.
  2. It supports a strategic alignment with experts in semiconductor research and manufacturing. 

A Unique UC Semiconductor Engineering Program in the Bay Area

We are in a unique position in Silicon Valley. UC Santa Cruz, via Extension, its professional education program, has been a prominent training ground for semiconductor engineers for nearly two decades. UCSC Silicon Valley Extension graduates have trained in the latest VLSI and semiconductor tools and trends and have gone on to assume leadership roles in the industry worldwide. Our seasoned instructors employed at prestigious global semiconductor companies continue to mentor students and help them advance their careers.

Anticipating Growing Demand

With this legacy of industry partnerships, we are enthusiastic about the potential to expand our programs and strengthen both existing and new partnerships across the state.

We are privileged to have an exceptional advisory board led by Arvind Vidyarthi steering our VLSI and Semiconductor certificate program and instructors who bring a wealth of experience from leading companies such as Intel, Cadence Design Systems, Meta, Synopsys, AMD, Cisco, Micron Technology, and Google. They are designing curricula and new programs with an eye on the future. Looking ahead, you can expect new, accelerated boot camps and mixed-modality programs aimed at expediting career development in these high-demand areas. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this transition and talk with you about developing new areas of the industry and look forward to continuing this conversation with you in the coming months.

— P.K. Agarwal, Dean, UCSC Silicon Valley Extension

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