Chip fabs are coming to the U.S., but will there be enough skilled workers?

Intel, TSMC, Samsung and other global companies are all planning chip fabs in the U.S. in coming years. While billions of dollars will go for those high-tech plants and their equipment, questions remain how companies will fill the needed jobs.

There are currently about 102,000 semiconductor and circuit manufacturing employees in the U.S.  New chip plants will each require thousands of workers. Samsung recently announced plans for a $17 billion chip plant in Texas to open in 2024 with 2,000 high tech jobs.

RELATED: Samsung to open another chip plant in Texas, valued at $17B

A new report estimates the U.S. will need to add 70,000 to 90,000 jobs to serve up to 20 domestic fabs in coming years for the most critical semiconductor applications. To meet that number, the U.S. needs to increase its workforce talent by 50%, according to Eightfold AI’s report.

Already, production operations roles are declining for job titles in manufacturing and equipment and for electronics technicians, according to the report, “How the U.S. can reshore the semiconductor industry.”

It calls for a multi-pronged approach to reshore U.S. manufacturing with reskilling and upskilling the existing chip workforce. “As the nation has outsourced chip manufacturing over the last two decades, the talent pool and necessary expertise has eroded,” the report says.

Government funding is available to address the challenge, the report adds, noting that states are competing to attract chip businesses, while large manufacturers are on the lookout for the states with the best incentives and infrastructure. The report calls on tax credits and other investments at the federal level, including funding the  CHIPS for America Act.

A semiconductor skills shortage could threaten U.S. fab reshoring plans, the report says. Among the recommendations for meeting the critical needs, the report calls for government policy changes that include land subsidies for fab plants and talent investments.

The three biggest talent groups needed are production engineering (which includes process engineers, integration engineers, yield engineers and quality engineers), logistics and support and production operations.

To address talent needs, the report calls for upskilling and reskilling current workers, which begins with identifying declining skills and rising skills and then arming workers with rising skills. For example, manufacturing techs are a declining role; the report calls for transitioning such workers into reliability engineer roles, since the two have a high degree of skills overlap.

“American’s semiconductor industry skills shortage may seem insurmountable at first glance,” the report concludes. “It is not.”