US confronted by a shortage of tech workers

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Research from the US Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), in partnership with Oxford Economics, suggests that the United States faces a significant shortage of technicians, computer scientists, and engineers.

The research predicts a projected shortfall of 67,000 of these workers in the semiconductor industry by 2030 and a gap of 1.4 million such workers throughout the broader US economy.

The report, titled “Chipping Away: Assessing and Addressing the Labor Market Gap Facing the U.S. Semiconductor Industry,” makes several policy recommendations to help close the talent gap as well complement the workforce development initiatives already being carried out by companies.

According to Matt Johnson, president and CEO of Silicon Labs and SIA board chair, “Effective government-industry collaboration can overcome the talent shortage facing our industry, build the strongest American tech workforce possible, and unleash the full potential of semiconductor innovation.”

True but while collaboration is key, delivering on those ambitions is where it gets hard – and you just have to look at the UK and Europe to see how addressing these problems often falls short.

At a time when semiconductor companies are ramping up production and when the CHIPS and Science Act in 2022 looks to encourage a significant share of new chip manufacturing capacity and R&D to be located in the US a lack of skills, training, and education has already had an impact with TSMC’s decision to delay starting production at its Arizona fab from 2024 to 2025, due to a shortage of skilled technicians.

To address the talent gap, the SIA-Oxford Economics study presents three core recommendations to strengthen the US technical workforce:

  • Strengthen support for regional partnerships and programmes aimed at growing the pipeline for skilled technicians for semiconductor manufacturing and other advanced manufacturing sectors.
  • Grow the domestic STEM pipeline for engineers and computer scientists vital to the semiconductor industry and other sectors that are critical to the future economy.
  • Retain and attract more international advanced degree students within the US economy.

While the The CHIPS Act has certainly set the stage for long-run investment and increased global competitiveness it will require tens of thousands of new workers to increase productive capacity in the US.

Of the total estimated semiconductor technical workforce gap of 67,000 by 2030, the study estimates approximately 39% of the gap (26,400 jobs) will be in technician occupations, 41% (27,300 jobs) in engineering occupations, and 20% (13,400 jobs) in computer science.

Across the US, chip firms have longstanding and expanding partnerships with community colleges and technical schools, apprenticeship programmes, universities and laboratories, and regional education networks but if the semiconductor industry is to grow those efforts will have to be accelerated.

At the same time, the report makes the point that the US government will also need to work with industry and academia to prioritise measures to address the skills gap facing the broader economy and the semiconductor industry.

The report has certainly identified the problems and suggested solutions, now comes the hard part.