But the subsidies, as well as new tax credits for the chip industry, were finally sent to Biden’s desk in late July. Intel isn’t the only company that has promised to supercharge US projects when the money comes in – For example, Samsung has proposed expanding its new $17 billion chip plant outside Austin, Texas, to nearly $200 billion investment. Lawmakers have already touted the subsidies as a key step toward an American renaissance in high-tech manufacturing.
Quietly, however, many of those same lawmakers — along with industry lobbyists and national security experts — fear that all the chip subsidies in the world will fall short without enough STEM workers to have high skills. And they accuse Congress of failing to seize multiple opportunities to address the problem.
Asking for help in STEM
In Columbus, just a few miles from the Johnstown farm where Intel is breaking ground, most officials don’t mince words: Tech workers must staff two microchip factories, more already the eight, not in the region of the levels required.
“We need a STEM workforce,” admitted Jon Husted, Ohio’s Republican lieutenant governor.
But Husted and others say they are optimistic that the network of higher ed institutions spread across Columbus — including Ohio State University and Columbus State Community College — can boost the region’s workforce quickly. .
“I feel like we were built for this,” said David Harrison, president of Columbus State Community College. He highlighted Intel officials’ repeated denials that 70 percent of the 3,000 jobs needed to fill the first two factories would be “technician-level” jobs requiring a two-year associate degree. “These are our jobs,” Harrison said.
Harrison worries, however, how quickly he and other higher ed leaders hope to convince thousands of students to sign up for required STEM courses and join Intel after graduation. The first two factories are set to be fully operational within three years, and more workers will be needed before then. He said his university still lacks the necessary infrastructure for teaching chip manufacturing – “we’re missing some wafer processing, clean rooms, those kinds of things” – and explained that the funding which was recently awarded by Intel and the National Science Foundation no. enough Columbus State needs more support from Washington.
“I don’t know that there’s a good Plan B right now,” Harrison said, adding that the new facilities would run into the “tens of millions.”
The lack of native STEM talent is not unique to the Columbus area. Across the country, especially in regions where the chip industry plans to move, officials are worried about a perceived shortage of skilled technicians. In February, the Taiwanese Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation cited a shortage of skilled workers when it announced a six-month delay in the move-in date for its new plant in Arizona.
“Whether it’s a license program, a two-year program or a Ph.D., at all levels, there is a shortage of high-tech STEM talent,” Phillips said. The NSB member highlighted the “missing millions of people who didn’t go into STEM fields – who were basically shut out, even starting in K-12, because they weren’t exposed in a way that would attract them to the field.”
Industry groups, such as the National Association of Manufacturers, have long argued that a two-pronged approach is needed when it comes to staffing the high-tech sector: Reevaluate immigration policy while also investing heavily in workforce development.
The abandoned competition bills in the House and Senate both include provisions that would improve federal support for STEM education and training. Among other things, the House bill would expand Pell Grant eligibility to students pursuing career training programs.
“We’ve had for decades incentivized degree attainment and not required skill attainment,” said Robyn Boerstling, NAM’s vice president of infrastructure, innovation and human resources policy. “There are manufacturing jobs today that can be filled in six weeks of training, or six months, or six years; we need all of the above.”
But those provisions were scrapped, after the leadership of the Senate decided that a conference between the two chambers of the bills was not very useful to reach an agreement before the August recess.
Katie Spiker, managing director of government affairs at the National Skills Coalition, said the abandoned Pell Grant expansion shows that Congress “isn’t responding to the needs of the workforce the way we need them to.” Amid criticisms that the existing workforce development system is unwieldy and ineffective, the decision to scrap the new upgrades is a continuation of a trend of disinvestment in workers’ hopes of getting the skills they need to meet the employer’s demands.
“And it becomes an issue that just compounds itself over time,” Spiker said. “As technology changes, people need to change and change their skills.”
“If we don’t get people skilled now, then we don’t have people who can develop and skill up to the next generation of manufacturing that we will be doing five years from now.”
Congress finally sent the small Chips and Science Act — which includes chip subsidies and tax credits, $200 million to develop a microchip workforce and a slate of R&D provisions — to the table in president in late July. The bill is expected to improve the domestic STEM pool (at least at the margins). But it probably lacks the generational investments that many believe are needed.
“You can break it down in six years,” Phillips said. “But if you want to solve the problem, it’s closer to a 20-year investment. And the country’s ability to invest in anything for 20 years is not unusual.
Immigration Arms Race
The microchip industry is in the midst of a global reshuffling that’s expected to last the better part of a decade — and the US isn’t the only country rolling out the red carpet. Europe, Canada, Japan and other regions are also concerned about their security, and are preparing sweeteners for microchip companies to set up shop on their borders. Assembling an effective STEM workforce in a short period of time will be key to attracting companies to choose America.
That’s challenging at the technician level, which represents nearly 70 percent of the workforce at most microchip factories. But those jobs only require a two-year degree — and over a six-year period, it’s possible that a sustained education and recruiting effort could produce enough STEM workers to keep the lights on.
It’s a different story entirely for Ph.D and master’s degrees, which take longer to obtain and which industry representatives say make up a small but important component of the factory workforce.
Gabriela González, Intel’s head of global STEM research, policy and initiatives, said that about 15 percent of factory workers should have doctorates or master’s degrees in fields such as material and electrical engineering, computer science , physics and chemistry. Students coming out of American universities with degrees are mostly foreign nationals – and what’s more, they end up with no immigration status that allows them to work in the US, and no clear path to achieve that status.