Developing Tomorrow's Innovators: Building the Semiconductor Workforce of the Future

Developing Tomorrow’s Innovators: Building the Semiconductor Workforce of the Future

State of the Semiconductor Industry 

The semiconductor industry has become an increasingly important part of the U.S. and global economies, with projections that it will exceed $1 trillion in annual revenue by the end of the decade. 

Global semiconductor sales reached $47.6 billion during January 2024—a 15 percent increase from January 2023. That growth is expected to continue, as experts predict that the market will grow 20 percent this year to $633 billion. At the same time, the semiconductor industry is experiencing more vertical integration, resulting in a shorter, more streamlined supply chain with fewer middlemen. 

While this growth is exciting—and necessary, considering how much our economy relies on these chips—it has raised many concerns around the sheer number of workers needed to keep up with the industry’s demand, especially in the United States. 

Related from Aleron Group partner Acara: Semiconductor Industry Takeaways from the 2024 SEMI Industry Strategy Symposium 

Developing the Semiconductor Workforce of Tomorrow 

The U.S. semiconductor industry employs approximately 345,000 people and will need to add 115,000 new jobs by 2030 to keep up with demand. Much of this job creation is being driven by the CHIPS Act—federal legislation passed in 2022 to support the country’s domestic semiconductor manufacturing capabilities. 

Of these new jobs, the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) estimates that roughly 67,000—or 58% of projected new jobs—risk going unfilled based on current degree completion rates. Meanwhile, one-third of America’s semiconductor employees are aged 55 or older and will likely retire within the next 10 years. 

Of course, this isn’t a problem that can be solved overnight. With that in mind, manufacturers, industry associations, universities, and state governments are working together now to build and develop talent pipelines that will deliver talent in the years to come. 

  • Oregon’s semiconductor industry is preparing for $40 million in investments via the federal CHIPS Act, as well as their own state-level CHIPS Act passed in 2023. In February 2024, the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission released its first Semiconductor Workforce and Talent Assessment. The report emphasizes the need for stronger collaboration among employers, educators, and community partners and proposes solidifying and supporting existing career pathways into the semiconductor industry through high school apprenticeships and industry-sponsored master’s degrees. 
  • In Indiana, Purdue University is working to augment and accelerate semiconductor training, research and sustainability, as well as the development of new skills. A new partnership will leverage modern digital manufacturing practices to develop students’ technological skills, educational content, and training courses. 
  • Arizona State University is launching a new initiative to boost the semiconductor supply chain and workforce. The university’s Southwest Advanced Prototyping (SWAP Hub) is a partnership of more than 130 industry, government, and educational groups that’s seeking to prepare people for careers in the growing semiconductor industry. 
  • The University of Cincinnati is receiving $1 million for workforce training in microchips. The funding will help UC acquire the technology and equipment needed to provide semiconductor and microelectronics training for students pursuing careers n the industry.  

At the SEMI Industry Strategy Symposium earlier this year, workforce development was a hot topic. During a panel comprised of top industry executives, three out of four said that labor would be the largest obstacle facing the semiconductor industry in 2024. To address this problem, the industry must look at a variety of strategies that include: 

  • Cultivating engineering talent at the high school and collegiate levels through partnerships and STEM programs specifically designed to put students on career paths in the semiconductor space. 
  • Recognizing that design, engineering, and creative talent will still be needed, despite all the industry can and will be able to do with automation. 
  • Persuading higher-level talent to relocate to the smaller, more rural markets where semiconductor fabrication plants (“fabs”) are being built. 
  • Taking a more global approach to talent acquisition that allows U.S. companies to better leverage talent from other countries. 

Finding and Retaining Semiconductor Workers Today 

While the U.S. takes steps to cultivate a pool of qualified talent to fill semiconductor jobs in the future, employers face the challenge of retaining workers today. 

Semiconductor employees who plan to leave their jobs cite lack of career development opportunities (34 percent) and workplace flexibility (33 percent). A McKinsey report shares how employers can slow attrition in the short-term: 

  • Establishing nontraditional career trajectories for advancement: A traditional approach to career development rewards employees with managing other colleagues and taking on additional responsibilities. However, not all high performers have an interest in management, especially those working in more technical roles. Semiconductor companies should look at alternative career paths that elevate qualified workers who want to remain individual contributors.
  • Improving workplace flexibility: The pandemic changed people’s attitudes around how and where we work. Although we’ve seen a shift away from remote work, semiconductor employers that are competing for in-demand talent need to get creative in cultivating a culture that allows for flexibility when possible.  

AI’s Impact 

In a recent industry outlook webinar hosted by the SEMI Silicon Valley and Northeast Chapters, experts discussed the high-intensity computing needed to power AI technologies. Generative AI is driving chip demand, with Gartner predicting that over a third of all smartphones globally will have on-device GenAI by 2027.  

If counties want to harness AI effectively, they need to invest in semiconductors now, as we look toward a not-so-distant future where semiconductors will be pushed to their limits. 

Looking Ahead 

As new investments pour into the semiconductor industry, addressing the chipmaking talent shortage in the U.S. has never been more urgent. 

Meanwhile, with a presidential election on the horizon, existing tensions with China may escalate if American foreign policy becomes less predictable—which could certainly impact the semiconductor industry. 

Employers today must focus on retaining the talent they do have and, when possible, upskilling workers to keep them competitive. At the same time, the industry should continue exploring innovative, longer-term partnerships to get students interested and excited in STEM careers while providing hands-on training to the semiconductor workforce of tomorrow. 

Broadleaf Results and Acara Solutions bring years of experience delivering talent acquisition solutions to clients in the semiconductor industry, and we’re ready to help you meet your hiring goals in 2024 and beyond. Schedule some time on my calendar to learn more. 

This blog was authored by Director of Enterprise Sales Damian Scandiffio.