New York, SEMI take stake in high-tech workforce


Meg Villeneuve

NEW YORK STATE—With close to $1 billion at stake, the state of New York hopes to keep its competitive status in luring high-tech firms to the region. Governor George Pataki recently released his plan to establish three high tech “Centers of Excellence,” in an effort to make New York a leader in university-based research, business creation and job development.

Under the governor's plan, New York would spend some $1 billion to establish the centers, including Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics at Buffalo, Center of Excellence in Photonics & Optoelectronics at Rochester and Center of Excellence in Nanoelectronics at Albany—all to maintain cleanroom space.

Future home at UAlbany of the only university-based 300 mm wafer facility.
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“These new Centers will directly link university researchers with business and industry leaders and position New York at the forefront of critical new growth industries in the most advanced areas of high-technology and biotechnology,” notes Pataki. The centers are proposed under the new budget, which is currently in negotiations. To date, the governor's office says the plan has received support and is “optimistic that it will be on the final budget.”

The Center of Excellence in Nanoelectronics will be located at the University of Albany. The money spent on this facility will go toward constructing a 300 mm wafer fab, which is currently in the planning phase. Ground breaking is expected to commence in April or May, with a build time of 18 months. At this time, the University currently has a 200 mm wafer fab facility operating in an ISO Class 3 (Class 1) capable environment.

The total cost of the 300 mm facility is expected to be $350 million, of which $50 million is expected to come from Pataki's new plan with the remaining to come from private industries, according to Alain Kaloyeros, executive director of the Institute at the University of Albany.

“We expect the Centers to provide one-stop shopping from R & D to training to prototyping,” says Kaloyeros. With the rising push for SOC (system-on-chip) and bio-chips, which aid in DNA testing, prototyping will become more difficult and costly. “The Center will act as a screener for different products, because we will be able to make some 50-100 chips for the company,” Kaloyeros adds.

The goal of the University at Albany Institute of Materials “is not just to explore the science and technology of future generations of devices and components, but to provide novel solutions to immediate manufacturing challenges; to serve as a workforce training resource for scientists, engineers, researchers, and fab technicians; and to pursue an overall infrastructure that is favorable to the growth of a variety of nanotechnology-based industries,” Kaloyeros notes.

One company with a vested interest in the wafer fab is IBM (East Fishkill, NY). IBM officials say that the company aids in mentoring the program and tries to provide input, when needed. “We are very close to the university and have hired many graduates,” says Jim Ryan, manager of interconnect technology for IBM Microelectronics.

The aspect of workforce training is very important to IBM. To date, IBM has hired some 20 engineers from the University of Albany and says the students are well trained and can “hit the ground running.” This is seen as a benefit especially during a time when industry experts agree that there is a shortage of high-tech employees.

In a recent study released by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics it was reported that the number of college students earning high tech undergraduate degrees has significantly dropped over the past decade. From 1987-1997, the number of degrees earned in computer science dropped from 39,589 to 24,768. During that same period, degrees earned in electrical engineering dropped almost 50 percent from 24,547 in 1987 to 13,336 in 1997.

Workforce development
For its part, Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International (SEMI) has started a Workforce Development Institute, which is aimed at introducing high school students to the career possibilities in the high-tech field.

The first four-day session was held in March in Gresham, OR, and was hosted by chipmaker LSI Logic. The agenda of the program started with a day of team building activities and was followed by two days of intense educational sessions that focused on all aspects of chip making, including transistors, cleanroom protocol, etching and gate lengths. On the fourth day all the students received a completion certificate and four students that showed the most promise were presented with a $1,000 scholarship.

LSI acknowledges that there's a talented workforce but says it has encountered a lack of high-tech workers since 1995. “We've always had ties with universities but we thought [it's now time] to reach high schools,” says LSI spokesperson, Tara Yingst.

“Introducing high school students to careers in semiconductor technology necessitated the industry's partnering with schools to broaden our students' opportunities,” notes Gary Rawson, president of Technologies North America and chairman of the SEMI Task Force that is coordinating the Institute with LSI Logic. “Classroom environments alone aren't providing them with the breadth of experience necessary to make an informed career decision.”

SEMI hopes to have three to four programs per year, with another scheduled for June. Officials from SEMI said Intel would be hosting that event at the company's technology center in Hillsboro, OR.


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