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Commerce Head Says U.S. Must Double Semiconductor Workforce in Next Decade

Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo stated the U.S. must expand its semiconductor workforce to meet its leadership, innovation, national security and economic goals as the government implements the CHIPS and Science Act.

During a Thursday speech, Raimondo stressed the importance of semiconductors because of their ubiquity in everyday items like cars and pacemakers, as well as their foundational role in advanced technology like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, cloud and big data. 

She noted that while the U.S. used to produce 37% of semiconductors in 1990, today that number is just 12%. The U.S. relies on one Taiwanese company for 92% of the country’s most sophisticated chips—something Raimondo called “unsustainable.” She asserted that the country is at an inflection point because of global competition, where the U.S. must “come together to drive technological progress on an unprecedented scale and, in so doing, ensure our global leadership.” 

Raimondo noted that the U.S. is “behind” after seeking cheaper manufacturing abroad, which has hurt American leadership and innovation in this field and has “real consequences.”

For example, the secretary noted that sophisticated defense capabilities like satellites, drones and hypersonic weapons rely on chips, creating a national security concern because a majority of these chips are made outside the U.S. and tested in China. She noted that the lack of manufacturing also hurts the U.S. economy through missed job opportunities and higher inflation because of supply chain issues.

“Without manufacturing strength here in the United States of America—and the innovation that flows from manufacturing—we are at a distinct disadvantage in the race to invent and commercialize future generations of technology,” Raimondo said. “All the technology that we will need to compete in the future depends on chips and manufacturing chips and the innovation that flows from it.”

According to Raimondo, the United States must invest in the semiconductor workforce by adding 100,000 technicians in the next decade and one million construction workers to help build the fab facilities. 

Raimondo added that industry and labor unions must work with colleges, universities, high schools and technical schools to expand the workforce and train future experts where they are needed. In a call to action, she asked colleges and universities to triple the number of graduates in semiconductor related fields, adding that they must expand recruitment pipelines. She stated that graduates should be able to work on day one of the job, so programs will need to have an application and hands-on component. The secretary noted that the goal is to double the semiconductor workforce in the next decade.

“We will not succeed without the trained workforce to meet this mission, ” Raimondo said.

As part of the CHIPS and Science Act, the government is providing $39 billion in manufacturing incentives and $11 billion towards research and development. Raimondo noted that the Commerce Department will release its first funding opportunity for manufacturing facilities next Tuesday. She stated that international companies are welcome to apply as long as they’re building manufacturing facilities in the United States. Raimondo added that in the coming months additional funding applications will be available for semiconductor supply chain and research and development. Raimondo asserted that the taxpayer funding is designed to spur further investment from the private sector. 

For example, Intel has invested $43.5 billion at its sites in Arizona, New Mexico and Ohio to expand U.S.-based semiconductor manufacturing.

“We strongly support the department’s efforts to build U.S. manufacturing and promote new clusters of semiconductor ecosystems,” Al Thompson, VP of U.S. Government Relations at Intel, said. “And we share their vision for the U.S. to become the premier destination in the world where new leading-edge chip architectures are invented, designed, manufactured at scale and packaged with the most advanced technologies.”

Thompson added that Intel has already created a talent pipeline blueprint and set of partnerships with academia to build that workforce.

While the U.S. leads in design and software, Raimondo stated the country must also lead in manufacturing and packaging technologies—the way the chips are arranged. She added that the goal is not self-sufficiency.

“We are looking to win the innovation race and we are looking to protect our national security and economic future,” Raimondo said. “We need to be in a much stronger position to lead the world in a fiercely competitive and global industry.”

The secretary also highlighted the importance of the National Semiconductor Technology Center—a public-private partnership where stakeholders come together to innovate, connect and problem solve. She added that the NSTC should also make it easier and cheaper for new and disruptive entrants to get into the market. For instance, Raimondo wants to cut the cost of moving a chip from concept to commercialization by half. 

Raimondo added that the U.S. must work with its allies and partners across the world to write tech standards and invest in the tech future, noting that this has already begun with the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council and the Indo Pacific Economic Framework.

source: NextGov