The fast-paced evolution and continued growth of the semiconductor industry in the U.S. demands a pipeline of talented and highly-trained workers. What’s flowing through that pipeline is becoming increasingly insufficient. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that within six years we will have a shortage of 12 million qualified workers in the fastest growing sectors of the job market. In the last decade, according to the National Science Foundation, the number of U.S. bachelor’s degrees dropped by eight percent and the number of mathematics degrees by 20 percent. China and India produce many times more engineers than we do. The U.S. ranks 8th worldwide in the availability of scientists, whereas India ranks 3rd, and America consistently ranks far below most developed nations in math and science education, 37th, according to the World Economic Forum. Even in Austin and Central Texas, where we have one of the best-educated workforces in the world (40-45 percent have bachelor’s degrees), there is real concern that at some point we may not have the number of tech people we will need.
If we are to remain competitive globally, continuing to innovate and develop the products that the world needs and wants, we need access to the best and most diverse workforce. In semiconductors the capabilities of devices are growing so rapidly, doing more on the platform level and driving other applications, that we increasingly need people savvy enough to understand silicon, hardware and system design and relate that to client needs. Unfortunately too many of today’s students entering the job market lack the strong math and science backgrounds necessary to meet this need.
In Austin and central Texas, we have a history of working as a community to address these issues. Five years ago, the semiconductor industry formed the Technology Executive and Education Council to address our specific need for technicians, successfully working with local schools and community colleges. But, as the industry and the region evolved and as the need for technicians decreased, we realized that we needed to focus on broader long-term challenges rather than just the immediate specific needs of one industry. Yesterday’s need was for technicians, today’s may be for electrical engineers and in five years it may be nanotechnology engineers. What all of these have in common is a strong math and science foundation.
Today, under the auspices and leadership of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, we are working with key stakeholders – government agencies, private enterprise and not-for-profits – to collectively develop solutions to transform the educational system, reaching kids while they are young and giving them the tools to be competitive and providing a preview of the kinds of jobs they could have when they graduate.
The semiconductor industry has joined many others to create the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce Task Force on Math/Science. The Task Force is at the forefront of a statewide effort to press the Texas State Board of Education to approve a plan to upgrade the primary Recommended High School Program and the Distinguished Achievement Plan to strengthen math and science requirements in high school. The Task Force is also working to get more high-school students to fill out college applications and financial aid forms and is supporting the statewide Closing the Gaps Initiative, which calls for enrolling 630,000 more students in Texas colleges and universities before 2015.
Austin and Central Texas are not alone in these efforts. Other forward-thinking regions throughout the country are fully aware that their ability to compete depends on their workforce and are taking action. As they do, there are lessons from our experience that may prove valuable:
1.Change can only happen when all stakeholders are involved. Regardless of the size of a company or institution, it cannot address the pipeline problem alone.
2.This is an ecosystem and solutions need to be holistic. Each piece of the puzzle impacts the rest: grade school leads to high school, which leads to college, which leads to job opportunities.
3.This is about long-term solutions that serve the community as a whole. It requires self-interested altruism, meaning that the people that are helped may not necessarily become your employees. But, as members of a vibrant community, may contribute to your success and growth as a consumer, teacher or customer.
This long-term approach pays off – often in ways that can not be anticipated. Several years ago, a young lady in Austin went into one of our programs as a high school student and then went on to Austin Community College as part of our semiconductor training program. After graduation she came to work at AMD as a technician. While working with us, this young lady went back to school and completed degrees in engineering and teaching. And today, she is a math and science teacher in one of the school systems we work with and this year was the teacher/manager of our high school program (Also, two the world’s biggest, newest and most advanced fabs – TI’s 300 mm RFAB in Richardson and Samsung’s 300 mm fab under construction in Austin benefited from these programs).
This is just one story and we clearly need thousands if not millions more like it to meet the challenges that lay ahead, not just as an industry and a region but also as a country. With so much at stake, the semiconductor industry needs to be a part of these efforts. We must work, in conjunction with others, to influence elected officials and finance change in order to keep the engine of innovation running at full speed and our competitive edge razor sharp.
Kevin Lyman is based in Austin, Texas.