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Talent issues grow as chipmakers pursue CHIPS Act money

The CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 allots money to expand education in semiconductor training. But talent is already falling short of planned chip facilities.

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As interest in CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 funding grows from chipmakers eager to cash in on monies to build manufacturing facilities in the U.S., preparing talent to work those facilities is becoming paramount.

The roughly $280 billion CHIPS Act aims to diversify the semiconductor supply chain through investments in chip manufacturing facilities, research and development and education. The U.S. Department of Commerce oversees $50 billion of that funding, with $39 billion set aside solely for manufacturing incentives. So far, the agency has received 460 statements of interest from semiconductor companies across 42 states to manufacture chips in the U.S.

Meanwhile, agencies like the National Science Foundation are looking to expand education in technologies like semiconductors. Indeed, the CHIPS Act appropriates $200 million for semiconductor workforce training and education activities, according to NSF.

However, the lack of U.S.-based talent is already causing issues, even stalling plans to build out U.S. chip manufacturing capabilities. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation (TSMC), one of the largest chip builders in the world, said that one of the main reasons it is delaying building a facility in Arizona is due to a shortage of skilled workers.

Though funding opportunities are opening for building manufacturing facilities, questions remain about how CHIPS Act funding will be dispersed for education and training in areas where chipmakers plan to build new facilities, such as TSMC in Arizona and Intel in Ohio, said Glenn O'Donnell, research director at Forrester Research.

"The education element is huge and is not getting enough attention," O'Donnell said. "That's a critical lynchpin in all this stuff working."

Talent will be an issue as U.S. diversifies chip supply chain

As chipmakers make plans to build facilities, O'Donnell said it will also be necessary to make plans for educating talent.

The U.S. for years has outsourced semiconductor manufacturing, mostly to Asia. As the Biden administration works to bring those capabilities back to the U.S., the country will face a dearth of skilled workers because those jobs haven't been widely available.

"Let's take, for example, the Ohio facility that Intel is building. It's not exactly Silicon Valley, so there's not an abundance of semiconductor engineers there by any stretch," he said. "Even in Silicon Valley, one of the ironies is there's not much silicon there anymore. It's a lot of software; silicon kind of took a backseat there for a long time."

The education element is huge and is not getting enough attention.
Glenn O'DonnellResearch director, Forrester Research

Most of the newer factories will likely be highly automated, meaning chipmakers won't need to hire thousands of people to staff the factories. However, chipmakers still need technical talent that understands chip manufacturing -- talent O'Donnell said is "pretty rare."

"Once they cut the ribbon on that factory, they're going to need that talent already in the factory. So the training has to happen before that," he said. "We've got to get the training going pretty quickly."

Finding the right talent is an issue for fabless semiconductor companies as well.

Mark Granahan, CEO of chip designer Ideal Semiconductor in Bethlehem, Penn., said he would love to double his staff within the next year, but it's not feasible. Granahan said education needs to be a multi-decade focus for the U.S.

"All of the intensity around semiconductors has caused a shortage of people that know semiconductors," he said. "The reality of that is very concerning. You don't have access to the talent because semiconductors have become such a critical element for the country and for the world, quite frankly."

Makenzie Holland is a news writer covering big tech and federal regulation. Prior to joining TechTarget, she was a general reporter for the Wilmington StarNews and a crime and education reporter at the Wabash Plain Dealer.

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