Industry, colleges team to fill cleanroom void

Hank Hogan

SAN JOSE, CA/BOSTON—Over the past decade the number of students enrolled in technical degree programs has dropped by at least one-third. Considering the semiconductor industry's dependence on skilled workers to staff cleanrooms, this statistic presents a problem nationwide.

To reverse this spiraling trend, the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) and the semiconductor industry are teaming up with colleges around the country in an effort to increase the number of technologically skilled workers to fill the ever-deepening void.

Click here to enlarge image

The latest example is an initiative targeted at the Northeast, where there's a projected shortfall of 3,000 semiconductor technicians and skilled operators over the next three years. A group of colleges—including Massachusetts Bay Community College (Wellesley, MA), the University of Massachusetts (Lowell, MA) and five others—are working with local industry, including Analog Devices (Norwood, MA), IBM (Essex Junction, VT) and three others.

The colleges will supply a curriculum tailored to industry needs, as well as faculty versed in the technology. The companies will donate equipment, facilities, employees and money. Each institution and company will contribute a fair share toward the effort. All groups will work together to entice students into the program, as well as to graduate them.

“In that way, we provide the area with the trained workforce that it needs to maintain the industry,” explains Marjory Stewart, vice president of academic affairs at Massachusetts Bay Community College.

Nationally, the semiconductor industry faces a shortfall of 25,000 technicians over the next three years. With that in mind, the SIA, Sematech (Austin, TX), the National Science Foundation and various large semiconductor companies are working with the Maricopa Advanced Technological Education Center (MATEC), which is operated by the Maricopa Community Colleges (Phoenix) as a national curriculum and faculty development resource.

Some 80 colleges make use of MATEC's services, including the colleges in the Northeast initiative. While there is a national core curriculum, it is adapted to local conditions. At Maricopa, for instance, some of the training is aimed at smart building concerns. At Austin Community College (ACC; Austin, TX), on the other hand, there's more emphasis on training suited to equipment and tool set issues.

Few, if any, of these programs have a dedicated cleanroom. Instead, teaching is done using other alternatives. The Northeast initiative, for instance, will use a small cleanroom at the University of Lowell, while ACC in Austin plans to build a cleanroom next year. However, semiconductor manufacturing technology program coordinator Louis Frenzel notes that this teaching tool won't be your standard ultra-clean facility, which is too expensive for the typical community college.

“That's why we're going for more of a simulated cleanroom. Something that we can manage financially over the years,” he says.

As for the future, these training programs are changing with the evolving technology. As SIA's director of workforce strategy, Cathleen Barton notes, “We're working right now on what the 300-mm transition means and how we educate and train workers.”


Easily post a comment below using your Linkedin, Twitter, Google or Facebook account. Comments won't automatically be posted to your social media accounts unless you select to share.