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Cultivating the Next-Gen Semiconductor Workforce

July 6, 2022
Purdue University launches new initiatives aimed at bolstering the nation’s semiconductor and microelectronic engineering workforces.

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As the global semiconductor shortage rages on and demand for technical talent surges, the number of chip-related degrees earned by American students has remained stagnant since the 1990s. To keep up with developments like the CHIPS Act—which has yet to be signed into law but is focused on building out domestic semiconductor capabilities—Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology says about 27,000 new positions in semiconductor and related component manufacturing will need to be filled over the next decade.

Finding qualified individuals to fill those positions may not be easy. “Companies such as Google and Apple are household names,” Protocol reports. “For college students and their parents, they are status symbols that help fresh graduates with jobs at either organization pass the ‘mom and dad test,’ as one chip executive put it. The likes of Intel and TSMC do not.”

Overwhelming and Rapidly Growing Demand

Purdue University’s future semiconductor workforce estimates are more compelling. The institution says that the U.S. will need a minimum of 50,000 trained semiconductor engineers over the next five years to meet an overwhelming and rapidly growing demand for such professionals.

Knowing this, the university recently became the first in the country to launch a set of interdisciplinary degrees and credentials in semiconductors and microelectronics. A suite of degrees and credentials, Purdue Semiconductor Degrees Program (SDP) will educate both graduate and undergraduate students. Launched in May, the new offering will enable a “quick ramp-up of skilled talent and create the next-generation of semiconductor workforce to reassert American preeminence in this critical industry.”

“The need to restore self-reliance in the semiconductor industry is both an economic priority and a national security imperative,” Purdue President Mitch Daniels said in a press release. “We are proud of Dean Chiang and his colleagues for placing Purdue in a position of national leadership in this all-important endeavor.”

Building a Strong Foundation

Calling semiconductor chips “the foundation upon which all modern digital economies are built,” the university says that as electronic devices have become more complex, so have the intricacies of semiconductors across the supply chain. It says CEOs of semiconductor technology companies have stressed the vitality of bolstering semiconductor education and publicly appealed to university officials across the country to expand the pool of skilled, credentialed talent to meet their need.

“Applied Materials is delighted to see Purdue University helping lead the charge to educate the tens of thousands of new engineers our industry needs through new degrees and credentials focused on microelectronics and semiconductors,” the company’s president and CEO said. “We look forward to welcoming this next-generation of innovators.”

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger is equally as enthused at the prospects, noting that every aspect of human existence is becoming digital, and that everything digital runs on semiconductors. “I’m excited about Purdue’s educational credentials focused on semiconductors and microelectronics, including the new interdisciplinary master’s degree,” said Gelsinger. “With these timely and high-impact initiatives, Purdue is leading the way in bridging the skills gap and addressing the shortage of skilled human talent in the semiconductor industry.”

A Three-Pronged Approach

Purdue says that its College of Engineering is supporting the SDP by investing seed funding for student success in three ways: providing summer-long semiconductor experiences for undergraduates, supporting chip “tapeouts” to enable graduate and undergraduate students to have their chip designs fabricated in a semiconductor foundry, and funding scholarships for students in the new interdisciplinary Master of Science (MS) degree.

The new degree program is one of several related initiatives that Purdue University is working on. In June, the school’s College of Engineering announced a new partnership with MediaTek Inc., a global fabless chipmaker. Together, they plan to open the Midwest’s first semiconductor chip design center on Purdue’s campus. The university also recently announced a partnership with Ivy Tech Community College to provide collaborative educational opportunities for faculty and students in microelectronics and to explore ways to attract more talent to this area.

About the Author

Bridget McCrea | Contributing Writer | Supply Chain Connect

Bridget McCrea is a freelance writer who covers business and technology for various publications.

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