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US to fight labor shortage with new Chips Act Worker Program

The Biden administration is kicking off a programme to cultivate the US computer-chip workforce, aiming to stave off a labour shortage that threatens to undermine domestic semiconductor production.

The programme, described as a workforce partner alliance, will use some of the US$5 billion (S$6.8 billion) in federal funding set aside for a new National Semiconductor Technology Centre (NSTC).

The NSTC plans to award grants to as many as 10 workforce development projects with budgets of US$500,000 to US$2 million.

The NSTC also will launch additional application processes in the coming months, and officials will determine the total level of spending once all the proposals have been considered.

The money comes from the 2022 Chips and Science Act, a landmark law that set aside US$39 billion in grants to boost US chipmaking, plus US$11 billion for semiconductor research and development, including the NSTC.

Firms have pledged to invest more than 10 times that in response to the incentives – a surge that is set to reshape the global supply chain for semiconductors. The NSTC effort is the legislation’s first workforce-focused funding opportunity.

Industry and government officials have warned that those new factories could falter without significant investment in labour. Some estimates project that the US will be short 90,000 technicians by 2030 – when the country aims to produce at least a fifth of the world’s most advanced chips.

“It is imperative that we develop a domestic semiconductor workforce ecosystem that can support the industry’s anticipated growth,” said Mr Michael Barnes, senior manager of workforce development programmes at Natcast, the non-profit organisation set up to operate the NSTC.

Since Mr Biden signed the Chips Act two years ago, more than 50 community colleges have announced new or expanded semiconductor-related programmes.

The four biggest Chips Act manufacturing awards – to Intel, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, Samsung Electronics and Micron Technology – each included US$40 million to US$50 million in dedicated workforce funding.

The Commerce Department unveiled its 12th grant from that manufacturing programme on July 1: US$6.7 million for Rogue Valley Microdevices. That money will support a new Florida factory focused on chips with defence and biomedical applications. Bloomberg

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