Report - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Community Colleges and the Semiconductor Workforce

| June 2023

Executive Summary

The 2022 CHIPS and Science Act is landmark legislation to advance U.S. global leadership in science and technology, particularly within the semiconductor manufacturing industry. Over the last several decades, the U.S.’s domestic semiconductor manufacturing capacity has declined, creating high dependency on foreign countries for chip manufacturing. The CHIPS Act aims to reverse this trend by investing over $50 billion in direct funding and loan subsidies to expand semiconductor research and development and manufacturing in the U.S.

This primer focuses on the workforce challenges that will be spurred by this microelectronics industry expansion and proposes how community colleges can play a critical role in addressing these challenges. It is estimated that over the next few years an additional 70,000 to 90,000 fab workers will be needed within new CHIPS-funded facilities. If the U.S. were to continue expanding and becoming self-sufficient in chip production, around 300,000 new fab workers would be required. This workforce gap is substantial and demands a large-scale investment in workforce development. Notably, a number of these newly created positions will not require a bachelor’s degree; Bureau of Labor Statistics data suggests that 60 percent of semiconductor manufacturing job offerings are available to those with associate degrees or high school diplomas.

Community colleges have a leading role in responding to this coming workforce demand. The workforce shortage is accompanied by a skills gap present across industry positions, including for those without four-year degrees. Technical skills are required to maintain and troubleshoot manufacturing equipment and keep the fab running at maximum capacity. Community colleges can take a leading role in filling the skills gap for these technician positions, providing affordable education and training programs to prepare students for skilled jobs in the workforce.

The CHIPS and Science Act equips the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to support the advancement of robust semiconductor workforce development programs within community colleges. However, while community colleges offer significant potential as partners in national workforce development, many are underfunded and understaffed, leaving opportunities to better utilize their strengths in building the semiconductor workforce.

This primer concludes with seven recommendations to NSF and NIST grant makers and philanthropic organizations who seek to invest and help equip community colleges to leverage their strengths for workforce expansion:

1. Updates to insufficient and outdated facilities, aligned with industry needs, should be prioritized to enhance skill-building and student engagement.
2. Funding should be allocated toward building and/or expanding programs that provide firsthand experience in the semiconductor industry environment to students before graduation.
3. Invest in nationwide programs or in community colleges that are promoting visibility of the semiconductor industry to students and the public.
4. Prioritize outreach and support to community colleges that do not routinely submit federal grant applications.
5. Build training programs and curriculum at community colleges that produce transferable skills for the semiconductor industry and external industries.
6. Invest in strengthening data tracking abilities, enabling community colleges to access comprehensive data that can track progress and student success.
7. Community colleges can enhance resource sharing with other institutions and industry, including four-year universities, and develop joint programs and forums to provide students with practical experience and prepare them for the workforce.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Gluck, Justine, Kanwalinder Sodhi and Ariel Higuchi. “Community Colleges and the Semiconductor Workforce.” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, June 2023.

The Authors