The CHIPS Act represents an immense investment in US manufacturing and technology. But the return on that investment will depend on whether enough workers with sufficient skills can be deployed to meet the desired production needs. Lightcast estimates in the recently released Rebuilding Our Semiconductor Workforce report that for the US semiconductor industry to double, a seemingly reasonable goal given the sizable investment of the CHIPS Act, the industry will need more than 236,000.
Economic and workforce development leaders have a major role to play in this expansion by creating an environment that is attractive to new semiconductor investment and growth of existing manufacturing and supply chains. While other factors play a role, the workforce responsible for production is the most crucial. We created the Regional Labor Force Readiness Ranking to measure the readiness of communities to meet skill demand. This includes workers either available now or ready to reskill in the most highly-demanded and undersupplied semiconductor jobs.
Regardless of where a community falls in this ranking (which only includes the largest 200 MSAs by jobs), there is ample opportunity to incorporate strategies that develop a semiconductor-ready workforce. Here are three ways to prepare your semiconductor workforce.
1. Reskill for semiconductor jobs
There are a number of occupations needed in the semiconductor industry that are already experiencing a shortage. Openings in these areas are going unfilled now, and there certainly aren’t enough workers to meet the additional demand generated by the CHIPS Act. The fastest and most efficient route to meeting this demand will be building on the skills of current workers. In the near-term, economic developers should place their attention on adding specific semiconductor skills to the existing skill profiles of local workers.
For example, the occupation of Calibration Technologist and Technician requires a strong understanding of electronics and the ability to work with a variety of electronic equipment and tools. The semiconductor-affiliated occupation of Electric and Electronic Engineering Technologist and Technician requires all those skills and more, typically requiring additional skills related to electronics and design.
Relatively few Calibration Technicians are needed in the semiconductor industry, while demand is much greater and supply is much lower for Electronic Engineering Technologists. Communities that identify the unique supply and demand gaps of semiconductor skills and occupations in their region will then be able to determine the most impactful reskilling of workers.
The most undersupplied reskill occupations include mostly technical roles at both the engineer and technician levels. Reskilling for these roles can be accomplished through various means, such as on-the-job training, in-house training programs, or external lab or classroom professional development courses. But for the process to be successful, it’s important to identify the specific skills that are needed for a particular occupation and then determine which workers have those skills, or have the potential to acquire them through additional learning experiences.
2. Redeploy workers into the semiconductor industry
Redeploy occupations are those in which there may be enough workers across your regional economy as a whole, but not enough going into the semiconductor industry. Should workers be redeployed into the semiconductor industry, however, their role will need to be backfilled. Consequently, existing educational institutions and workforce development organizations are instrumental when taking a redeploy approach. Expanding program output will be needed to meet current non-semiconductor industry demand and also the gap left by workers transitioning into semiconductor production.
While supply gaps exist for redeployment roles at both the BA and sub-BA level, the need is more pronounced for jobs that don’t require a degree. All of the top undersupplied non-bachelor’s degree redeploy occupations are in manufacturing, production, or maintenance, and can theoretically be found in many different industries. Additionally, the very specific set of skills found in these roles, such as programming and machining, will be hard to find in other occupations, making it hard to reskill into.
3. Get ahead of industry trends
The semiconductor industry has already shown signs of heating up and shifting. Indeed, major investments have already been announced on top of what the industry was trying to do pre-CHIPS Act.
Job postings provide a real-time look at the growing demand for skills and titles in the semiconductor industry. Over the last five years, visualization and analysis skills along with cloud computing have seen a rise. And regardless of education level, AI and machine learning skills are growing in prevalence. Roles in logistics, business, and quality control are also growing quickly.
Strategies applicable across industries
The federal funding incentivizing domestic semiconductor production is historic and has shined a light on the industry. And while the strategies of reskilling, redeploying, and getting ahead of trends are here applied to the semiconductor industry, they can equally be applied to any industry—for the workforce challenges aren’t unique to the semiconductor industry.
Every industry and community is struggling with the ramifications of a demographic drought. This struggle includes filling roles in high-growth industries, often with good-paying jobs, while not depleting those industries that provide the services communities have become accustomed to. Doing so requires a firm grasp of existing skills and occupations in a region, and consequently when it’s best to reskill or redeploy.