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The Semiconductor Workforce

How the Commerce Department is looking to find and back training models that work.

An early look at the Commerce Department’s strategy for training a new semiconductor workforce, including a public-private center that seeks to identify and invest in models that work. Also, a CUNY school creates new on-ramps for students with credits for Google certs and tech training programs.

Photo by Mykola Pokhodzhay on iStock

The Biden administration earlier this year rolled out its long-term vision for doubling the nation’s semiconductor workforce. The plans described by Gina Raimondo, the U.S. secretary of commerce, included working with high schools, community colleges, and unions to train 100K new technicians for the industry through apprenticeships, CTE, and career pathway programs.

“CHIPS for America is going to create hundreds of thousands of good jobs,” Raimondo said in February. “But here’s the truth: if we don’t invest in America's manufacturing workforce, it doesn’t matter how much we spend. We will not succeed.”

Now, the details of those plans are coming into shape. In a forthcoming brief, the Commerce Department’s CHIPS for America office says it anticipates more than $500M in public and private workforce investments for CHIPS-funded facilities.

After those awards are made, CHIPS for America says it will work with regional education and training partners to support those investments, including through registered apprenticeships. It also will seek to “hold companies accountable to workforce development targets.”

The brief, which the department plans to publish here on Friday, featured several updates on what’s happened on CHIPS-related workforce development, including:

  • New funding from at least seven states to support training for semiconductor job growth backed by the federal legislation.

  • New or expanded semiconductor programming from more than 50 community colleges across 19 states.

  • An expectation of new commitments to registered apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeship programs that will train workers in specialized semiconductor construction and maintenance operations.

The department’s approach with this broad experiment isn’t a typical workforce play, say officials with CHIPS for America. Instead, it’s an R&D strategy—with a heavy focus on innovation and the curation and evaluation of job training models. The thinking, the department says, is to figure out what’s working, and what isn’t, then to back the best-in-class models and support efforts to scale them up.

The new National Semiconductor Technology Center will be the central node for much of the department’s $11B in planned R&D spending related to the semiconductor industry. The public-private consortium will include representatives from semiconductor companies, higher education institutions, and workforce agencies, as well as government officials.

The NSTC will seek to identify and invest in promising approaches for the education and training of semiconductor workers while also conducting R&D to create and test novel ones. In the brief, CHIPS for America describes the plan for developing workforce centers of excellence within the NSTC. Possible focus areas for those centers include:

  • Developing a voluntary framework for credentials that would help align college programs, as well as apprenticeships and other training tracks, with employer needs in the semiconductor industry.

  • Curating a central repository of courses, other educational materials, and information on microcredentials, training programs, and work-based learning opportunities.

  • Providing physical space and equipment for training and bringing in faculty members with industry experience.

  • Developing new training methods that leverage technological advances. 

The various groups participating in the public-private consortium say that the NSTC must be seen as a “neutral, trusted, and science-driven player,” according to the department. It will be operated by a new “purpose-built” nonprofit, with a structure that’s designed to ensure that the NSTC is dedicated to industry needs and committed to the public interest.

“The NSTC will provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build an anchor institution for the semiconductor industry, including to meet the needs of the current and future workforce,” the forthcoming department brief says.

For more on how CHIPS for America’s approach to workforce training is taking shape, click over to Work Shift.

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New On-Ramps at CUNY SPS

The City University of New York’s School of Professional Studies has added the completion of Google Career Certificates and noncollege IT training programs as standardized types of prior-learning credit students can count toward a degree.

Google offered the school’s students the same free access to the certs that community college students can get. And rather than monetizing the gift by embedding the microcredentials in a continuing education course, CUNY SPS allows students to pursue the certs on their own and then earn up to 12 credits for each one they complete. The school tapped its faculty and evaluations from the American Council on Education to determine those credit equivalencies.

The decision to make the certs totally free “on-ramps” was about not creating a financial barrier for the many CUNY students who are low-income, members of minority groups, and the first in their families to attend college, says Holli Broadfoot, experiential learning director for CUNY SPS.

“We didn’t think it would be right to turn around and sell them,” she says. “Also, we didn’t want to undermine academic integrity by creating the perception that credits can be bought” rather than earned.

Likewise, the school is offering credit for prior learning to graduates of noncollege IT training programs, including Per Scholas, NPower, Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow, and the Knowledge House.

Through the IT Pathways Partnership, graduates can earn up to 15 credits toward a bachelor’s degree for their college-level learning in those programs, and for industry credentials they complete in them, including those offered by Oracle, Meta, CompTIA, AWS, and Google. (Are other colleges and universities doing this? Let me know if so.)

“Working with training providers links curriculum more closely to industry needs,” says Jennifer Sparrow, interim senior associate dean for academic affairs at CUNY SPS. “College and training programs are both important and don’t have to be at odds with each other.” 

Depending on the program, between 20% and 35% of the school’s students hold some form of credit for prior learning. Retention and graduation rates for these students top those of their peers. Sparrow hopes the school’s approach to prior learning will help encourage other CUNY institutions to “recognize all learning, wherever it happened.”

Broadfoot says Google certs are at the center of the Venn diagram of helping students to save time and money while getting a workforce credential. In the first academic year of offering them, 332 CUNY SPS students earned credit for one of the certs.

The Kicker: “This is the way that higher education’s gotta go,” Sparrow says. “If we have to start small, we’ll start small.”

Open Tabs

Digital Credentials
Instructure, the learning platform company that operates Canvas, is acquiring Parchment for $795M. Parchment describes itself as the world’s largest credentials exchange. Matt Pittinsky, Parchment’s CEO, said in an interview last year that the company’s success with digitizing academic transcripts could help ed tech move toward “communicating competencies through more comprehensive record formats.”

AI Impacts
The Biden administration issued a sweeping executive order on AI, putting the force of the federal government behind better understanding how to mitigate risks and harness the technology’s full potential. Much of the focus is on safety, security, and responsible use—but it also directs the Council of Economic Advisors and the Department of Labor to examine the labor market effects of AI, outline best practices for employers, and suggest new executive actions or legislation to help workers navigate the emerging technology.

LinkedIn’s Aneesh Raman is bullish on AI as the way to make skills-based hiring a reality and to level the playing field for millions of workers without a bachelor’s. As VP and head of the Opportunity Project at LinkedIn, it’s Raman’s job to push for greater equity in hiring. AI, he told Fast Company, could “usher in a new world of work”—in a good way.

Gerald Chertavian, founder and CEO of Year Up, one of the most successful training providers for workers without degrees, told SHRM that he’s similarly optimistic. "I promise you that AI will do more good than bad and push the skills-first movement beyond anything we have ever seen,” he said.

Every occupation will be strengthened by doubling down on uniquely human interpersonal skills in the age of AI—but the technology’s impact on a job will vary widely depending on the unique tasks and skills it requires, according to new research by JFF’s Center for Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Work. The center produced a framework to analyze AI’s impact on job tasks and skills, and the nature of the impact.

AI Skills
Cognizant rolled out a new training program, dubbed Synapse, that seeks to equip more than 1M people with technology skills, including with generative AI. The tech company plans to partner with governments, academic institutions, and businesses on the training program and will build a consortium to employ people trained through it. Cognizant also will work with community colleges and other partners to support thousands of apprentices.

Degree Requirements
Minnesota will drop degree requirements for many jobs in state government and will instead emphasize skills and work experience, following an executive order from Governor Tim Walz, a Democrat. State agencies in Minnesota employ 38K workers. The state also will develop competencies for supervisors and other agency leaders. Minnesota is the 17th state to drop degree requirements for a substantial number of government jobs.

Two-Year Enrollments
City Colleges of Chicago’s total enrollment spiked by roughly 13% this fall, with strong gains among Black men (16%) and Latino men (9%). The bump in credit-bearing undergraduate programs was 8%. City Colleges attributed sustained enrollment increases over the last year to frozen tuition and more tuition-free programs, including short-term tracks in high-demand fields. The system also pointed to its investments in comprehensive student supports and work-based learning opportunities.

Job Moves
The National Skills Coalition has named Robert Espinoza as its next CEO. Espinoza previously was the longtime executive vice president of Policy for PHI, an organization focused on the direct care workforce. He will replace Andy Van Kleunen, the coalition’s founding CEO.

Monique Baptiste is the inaugural chief program officer for STRIVE, a national workforce development agency that works on economic mobility. Baptiste moves from JPMorgan Chase & Co., where she served as executive director of corporate DEI talent and held leadership roles in philanthropy.

These are busy days for workforce education. I had lots more for this issue but ran out of room (and time). Will try again next week. —PF