Biden wants an industrial renaissance. It cannot do this without immigration reform.

But those grants, along with new tax credits for the chip industry, were finally sent to Biden’s office in late July. Intel isn’t the only company that has promised to boost US projects once that money is in – Samsung, for example, is suggesting expanding its new $17 billion chip factory outside of Austin, Australia. Texas, to an investment of almost 200 billion dollars. Lawmakers are already touting the subsidies as a key step toward an American renaissance in high-tech manufacturing.

Quietly, however, many of those same lawmakers — along with industry lobbyists and national security experts — worry that all chip subsidies around the world will fall flat without enough highly skilled STEM workers. And they accuse Congress of failing to seize multiple opportunities to address the issue.

STEM help wanted

In Columbus, a few miles from the Johnstown field where Intel is innovating, most officials don’t mince words: the tech workers needed to staff two microchip factories, let alone eight, don’t exist in the region at the moment. necessary levels.

“We are going to need a STEM workforce,” admitted Jon Husted, Republican Lieutenant Governor of Ohio.

But Husted and others say they’re optimistic that the network of higher education institutions spread across Columbus — including Ohio State University and Columbus State Community College — can quickly bolster Columbus’s workforce. the region.

“I feel like we were made for this,” said David Harrison, president of Columbus State Community College. He pointed to the repeated refrain from Intel officials that 70% of the 3,000 jobs needed to fill the first two factories will be “technician-level” jobs requiring two-year associate degrees. “These are our jobs,” Harrison said.

Harrison worries, however, about how quickly he and other higher education leaders are expected to convince thousands of students to enroll in required STEM courses and join Intel after graduation. The first two factories should be fully operational within three years and will need a significant number of workers well before that date. He said his university still doesn’t have the infrastructure to teach chipmaking – “we lack wafer processing, clean rooms, that kind of stuff” – and explained that funding recently provided by Intel and the National Science Foundation will not be enough. Columbus State will need more support from Washington.

“I don’t know if there’s a big plan B right now,” Harrison said, adding that new installations will be “in the tens of millions.”

The lack of native STEM talent is not unique to the Columbus area. Across the country, particularly in areas where the chip industry is considering outsourcing, officials worry about a perceived lack of skilled technicians. In February, the Taiwanese Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation cited a shortage of skilled workers when announcing a six-month delay in the move-in date of its new factory in Arizona.

“Whether it’s a bachelor’s degree, a two-year program, or a doctorate, at every level there is a shortage of high-tech STEM talent,” Phillips said. The NSB member pointed to the “missing millions of people not going into STEM fields – who are essentially excluded, even from K-12, because they are not exposed in a way that appeals to them. to the domain”.

Industry groups, like the National Association of Manufacturers, have long argued that a two-pronged approach is needed when it comes to staffing the high-tech sector: re-evaluate immigration policy while investing heavily in workforce development

The scrapped House and Senate competitiveness bills both included provisions that would have strengthened federal support for STEM education and training. Among other things, the House bill would have expanded Pell Grant eligibility to students pursuing vocational programs.

“For decades, we’ve encouraged graduation and not necessarily skill acquisition,” said Robyn Boerstling, NAM’s vice president of infrastructure, innovation and human resources policy. “There are manufacturing jobs today that could be filled with six weeks of training, or six months, or six years; we need all of the above.

But those provisions were scrapped, after the Senate leadership decided a conference between the two chambers on the bills was too cumbersome to reach an agreement before the August recess.

Katie Spiker, executive director of government affairs at the National Skills Coalition, said the abandoned Pell Grant expansion shows Congress “hasn’t met the needs of working people the way we need them to.” Amid criticism that the existing workforce development system is cumbersome and inefficient, the decision to drop new upgrades continues a trend of disinvestment in workers who hope acquire the skills they need to meet employer demand.

“And it becomes a problem that only gets worse over time,” Spiker said. “As technology evolves, people need to change and evolve their skills.”

“If we don’t train qualified people now, we won’t have people who can scale and develop into the next generation of manufacturing that we will be doing five years from now.”

Congress finally sent the smallest chip and science law – which includes chip subsidies and tax credits, $200 million to develop a microchip workforce and a list of provisions for of R&D – in the president’s office at the end of July. The bill should improve the national STEM pool (at least on the margins). But it’s probably less than the generational investments that many believe are necessary.

“You could make a dent in six years,” Phillips said. “But if you really want to solve the problem, it’s closer to a 20-year investment. And the ability of this country to invest in anything for 20 years is not phenomenal.

Arms race for immigration

The microchip industry is in the midst of a global shake-up that is expected to last well into the decade – and the United States isn’t the only country rolling out the red carpet. Europe, Canada, Japan and other regions are also worried about their security and preparing sweeteners for microchip companies to set up shop on their borders. Building an effective STEM workforce in a short period of time will be key to persuading companies to choose America instead.

It will be difficult at the technician level, who make up about 70% of the workers in most microchip factories. But those jobs only require two-year degrees — and over a six-year period, it’s possible that a sustained education and recruitment effort could produce enough STEM workers to at least keep the lights on.

It’s a whole different story for doctorates and masters, which take much longer to earn and which industry officials say are a smaller but crucial component of a company’s workforce. factory.

Gabriela González, head of research, policy and global STEM initiatives at Intel, said about 15% of factory workers are required to have a doctorate or master’s degree in areas such as materials and electrical engineering, computer science, physics and chemistry. Students graduating from US universities with these degrees are largely foreign nationals – and increasingly they are graduating without an immigration status that allows them to work in the United States, and without a clear pathway to obtain this status.

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