Government’s Role is to ‘Seed the Field’ of Semiconductor Workforce, Experts Say

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A panel discussed how government, industry and academia are each uniquely positioned to contribute to the semiconductor industry and how they can work together to fill in the gaps.

Following the CHIPS and Science Act—which became law in August—the government, industry and academia must work together to bolster the nation’s semiconductor workforce, according to a panel held by Intel on Monday.

“As a leader on both the House science and education committees, I know that building a talented and diverse workforce to boost the semiconductor industry is a top priority,” Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, (D-Ore.) said. “We expect that the unprecedented levels of funding for the [National Science Foundation] will drive innovation, interagency collaboration and public private partnerships.”

The panel discussed the role of industry, government and academia to build a robust semiconductor workforce and to help improve the industry. The panelists noted that those three areas must work together to expand and diversify the workforce, while each area can complement and fill in the gaps in the other areas. However, government, industry and academia each serve a unique role.

According to Jason Oxman, president and chief executive officer of the Information Technology Industry Council, the role of government is “to seed the field both with the kind of financial investment that the CHIPS and Science Act makes possible, but also with a policy environment that encourages investment by industry and technology.” 

“The role of the private sector is to take advantage of those opportunities to create the manufacturing capabilities, create the jobs, create the environment for the innovation that we’re seeing from Intel and others, we will see as a result of the CHIPS and Science act, and to continue to make those opportunities available,” Oxman added. “What’s the role of academia as a result of the government seeding that investment? … to remind us all that there are opportunities in the technology industry across the spectrum, not just for PhDs in science, but we need to create STEM opportunities across all levels of academia.”

For example, the National Science Foundation can serve as an example of government investing in industry and academia.

“I’d argue that there’s no better seed investor than the National Science Foundation,” Erwin Gianchandani, assistant director for technology, innovation and partnerships at the National Science Foundation, said. “For decades, we have invested in the basic research and the fundamental research that industry then ultimately takes up. We’ve invested that basic research often on academic campuses, and industry ultimately takes that up and helps to see that research translated and realized in practice. And we all walk around with the benefits of NSF funding and federally funded research, even in our hands.”

The panelists also noted that partnerships and collaboration are important to share resources and for one sector to help fill and serve the needs of the other.

“There’s no better time than now to really think about what are the ways in which we can roll up our sleeves and break new ground in terms of new public and private partnerships,” Gianchandani said. “As we think about these types of partnerships, we’re really looking for ways in which we can bring multiple companies, as well as multiple governments—not just the federal government, but state and local and tribal governments as well—together with academic institutions of all different types.”

Shari Liss, executive director of the SEMI Foundation, described the necessity of academic institutions to educate the next generation, while making sure the education and skills taught match the skills needed.

“One of the most critical partnerships right now is opening up communications between industry and our companies,” she said. “When I talk to students, when I talk to member companies, there’s a lot of disconnect between what’s being studied, what’s being applied and what’s needed in the company sector.”

Meanwhile, Amy Nice, assistant director for international science and technology workforce at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, emphasized the importance of not only STEM education, but also attracting STEM talent in other ways, such as through immigration policy and allowing international students to stay beyond obtaining a degree.

“A lot of people in this administration in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, are working full time just on STEM education, and expanding the domestic workforce, especially in underrepresented and underserved communities,” Nice said. “I’m sort of in the corner of OSTP that thinks about, essentially STEM immigration policy as a science and technology policy, and looking for opportunities…in the nooks and crannies of our immigration system, where we can have departments and agencies announce policies that would facilitate the sort of collaboration between industry, government and academia. We’re trying in our STEM immigration policy efforts to facilitate the role of employers across the different sectors, national labs, universities and employers.”

The panelists noted that through the CHIPS and Science Act, as well as other initiatives, the government is supporting the private sector and academia, allowing both to contribute to the semiconductor industry. However, according to the panelists, more work needs to be done to strengthen and build the semiconductor workforce. 

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