Recruitment & Retention

How Intel is planning to use federal funding to rebuild talent pipelines for semiconductor manufacturing

Intel CPO Christy Pambianchi says the company is exploring “all the ways that we can expand the qualified workforce and the talent available to come into these jobs.”
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5 min read

The federal government is pouring billions of dollars into efforts to strengthen the US’s domestic capacity to produce semiconductor chips.

These chips, which power everything from cars to computers, were in short supply during the Covid-19 pandemic, as supply-chain issues brought into focus how dependent the US was on other countries for the technology. The US aims to produce 20% of the world’s most advanced chips by 2030 as part of the CHIPS and Science Act, and the government is tapping companies like Intel to help it achieve this goal.

Intel will receive $8.5 billion from the Department of Commerce to bolster semiconductor manufacturing, the company announced in March. The investment is expected to create 10,000 new jobs for the technology company, which is headquartered in Santa Clara, California, but has semiconductor facilities across the US. Chief People Officer Christy Pambianchi said Intel has been investing in partnerships with post-secondary education programs to strengthen the pipeline of available talent to fill these jobs.

Investing in the future. Intel is already investing $100 billion of its own money “to expand chipmaking capacity and capabilities in Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, and Ohio,” and the $8.5 billion in CHIPS funding will go toward those projects. Part of the federal grant will go to the construction of brand-new facilities in Chandler, Arizona, and New Albany, Ohio—the latter of which was dubbed by President Biden as “the ground on which America’s future will be built.”

There’s clearly a lot riding on the success of these semiconductor fabrication plants (or “fabs”), and getting them up and running requires workers with a diverse set of skills. Roughly two-thirds of CHIPS jobs at Intel are expected to be technician roles, and Pambianchi said these roles typically require an associate’s degree, with candidates covering things like “fabrication, quality control, or measurement” in community college courses. She said Intel also plans to hire both hardware and software engineers to help run the fabs, along with construction workers needed to build them.

Pambianchi said Intel is exploring “all the ways that we can expand the qualified workforce and the talent available to come into these jobs.”

In Ohio, Intel awarded grants to more than 80 different higher education institutions in 2022 to ready the semiconductor workforce, and participating schools are offering courses geared toward future fab technicians or entry-level engineers, as well as graduates with advanced degrees. The company also partnered with Ohio community colleges to design a one-year semiconductor technician certification program.

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Intel has supported similar programs in Arizona, where it partners with Maricopa Community Colleges to offer a 10-day “quick start” program aimed at training students for technician roles, and in Oregon, with Portland Community College.

The company started developing these partnerships prior to applying for the CHIPS grant, and Pambianchi said she expects to either scale or create new initiatives with the federal funding.

Playing catch-up. When developing workforces to support such investments, one of the biggest recruitment challenges companies often face is a talent shortage, experts say. Deloitte estimates more than 1 million additional skilled workers will be needed to work in the semiconductor industry by 2030, or 100,000 annually. Currently, fewer than 100,000 graduate students enroll in electrical engineering and computer science in the US each year.

“​​The scale is dramatic,” said Karen Weisz, a Deloitte managing director focusing on telecommunications and human capital, of global investments in semiconductor manufacturing. “You have, already, a constrained environment, with growth aspirations that are just going to put more pressure on the talent market.”

As companies plan to hire technicians for their semiconductor investments, they’re shifting how they think about recruiting, given these jobs don’t require a bachelor’s degree, Weisz said. As illustrated by employers like Intel, they’re taking a “non-traditional, vocational technical approach,” characterized by partnerships with community colleges, technical education programs, and apprenticeship training programs.

For Intel, the steep investment in semiconductors is partly about reclaiming its dominance in the market. But Pambianchi also articulated a loftier goal of restoring education and workforce infrastructure for an industry that saw it fall by the wayside in recent decades.

“It isn’t just that we let the manufacturing leave the country…a lot of the education dissipated, universities labs dissipated, professor programs shrunk,” she said. “I’m super excited to be part of, ‘How do we build the whole thing up?’”

The workforce development Intel and its counterparts are working on is in some ways “remedial,” given “we’ve just been asleep at the switch on this issue for a number of decades,” said Sujai Shivakumar, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who directs the Renewing American Innovation Project. “We coasted for a while, and now we’re kind of playing catch up.”

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.