Purdue and Ivy Tech hope their combined efforts will strengthen the microelectronics workforce

Microchips, commonly referred to as semiconductors, power technologies associated with everyday life. From personal items like computers, phones, cars, and smartwatches to large-scale assets like the power grid and defense systems, microchips are essential.

And the industry is exploding, growing faster than the workforce can keep up, leading to greater shortages in an already limited pool of skilled workers to work in microelectronics.

That’s why Purdue University has announced what it calls a “comprehensive package” of interdisciplinary degrees and degrees in semiconductors and microelectronics.

“The need to restore autonomy to the semiconductor industry is both an economic priority and a national security imperative,” Purdue Chairman Mitch Daniels said when the school announced the extension. diplomas.

It’s also why Purdue is working with Ivy Tech Community College to develop more microelectronics-related associate degree and certificate programs, and to attract more high school students to these programs.

Labor shortages, of course, are nothing new in the manufacturing and technology sectors. And while many industries struggle to find workers, microchip makers actually have an advantage because much of the production process is automated. However, the high-tech equipment used still requires skilled personnel to operate it – and the United States is expected to need 100,000 more skilled engineers and technicians over the next decade.

So, Purdue and Ivy Tech executives are confident their combined efforts will benefit Indiana and the industry as a whole while minimizing disruption to microchip production similar to the one Subaru of Indiana Automotive experienced a while ago. one year old.

The Lafayette plant suffered a two-week furlough in the spring of 2021 due to a global semiconductor shortage, an issue that has sidelined other manufacturers as well.

“Ivy Tech has been studying microelectronics for some time,” said Sue Smith, the school’s vice president for advanced manufacturing, engineering and applied science. “We had a college program years ago, but the demand for those jobs and those skills was so low at the time that we discontinued it.

“Now we are trying to resuscitate him, but the ground is not the same as before.”

Purdue and Ivy Tech’s efforts come amid Indiana Economic Development Corp.’s launch. of a task force called Accelerating Microelectronics Production & Development, intended to strengthen the state’s semiconductor industry. The group, with $2.7 million in government funding, is expected to accelerate and support microelectronics research and innovation in Indiana by securing commercial semiconductor and federal funding opportunities.

“Indiana has a deep advanced manufacturing DNA,” Indiana Commerce Secretary Brad Chambers said in a statement. “In the years to come, the AMPD task force will be focused on supporting this critically important industry in the state.”

Ivy Tech’s Smith is part of the task force. So is Purdue’s Mark Lundstrom, an electrical and computer engineering professor who also helps lead Purdue’s efforts and the partnership between Purdue and Ivy Tech.

Purdue takes the lead role

Purdue has “a long history in semiconductors,” Lundstrom told IBJ. “In fact, it’s the 75th anniversary of the transistor at Bell Labs, and we’re the ones who provided the semiconductor they were first proven on.”

Purdue also leads the Scalable Asymmetric Lifecycle Engagement Microelectronics Workforce Development program, a national initiative sponsored by the U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense to help meet the need for engineering graduates who can focus on defense technology development, particularly in the field of microelectronics. . Peter Bermel, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue, is spearheading this effort.

Additionally, Purdue is part of the Semiconductor Research Corp consortium effort. to help define the future technological goals of the microelectronics industry and advanced packaging technologies.

Now it has introduced what it calls its Semiconductor Degree Program – or PurdueSDP – a series of degrees and credentials that aim to “enable a rapid ramp-up of skilled talent.” Offerings include a major and minor for undergraduates, masters, and postgraduate certificates. The program also includes the associate degree offered by Ivy Tech.

Programs include online and on-campus options and offer what the school calls six-in-one content, with training in chemicals and materials, tools, design, manufacturing, packaging and supply chain management – all areas that are critical to semiconductor. industry.

Through their partnership, Purdue and Ivy Tech will also work to enhance high school outreach efforts to promote microelectronics as a viable career path as well as expand online training opportunities.

A changing industry

Lundstrom said the United States consumes 47% of all semiconductors produced in the world, but manufactures only about 12%. The others come from China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. However, industry experts say there were already weaknesses in the international supply chain before the pandemic. In fact, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck Fukushima, Japan shut down several semiconductor factories, some for several months, following plant damage and power outages.

While major US microchip makers such as Intel Corp., NVIDIA Corp. and Texas Instruments Inc. are based in the West and Southwest, there are currently no microelectronics manufacturing plants in the state of Indiana, according to IEDC.

“The microelectronics industry started in Silicon Valley and then slowly spread to Oregon and Texas,” Lundstrom said. “New York State has made significant investments in recent years and is now seeing results.

“The Midwest hasn’t done much with this historically, and while there’s national recognition of the need for growth, there’s a noticeable absence in the Midwest.”

However, California-based Intel recently announced it would invest more than $20 billion to build two microchip factories in Licking County, Ohio, just east of Columbus. The company also said that at full construction, the site’s total investment could reach $100 billion over the next decade.

Construction on the 1,000-acre Ohio Intel project is expected to begin late this year with a targeted production launch in 2025.

Lundstrom said he frequently hears about technology companies interested in developing microchip manufacturing plants in various states, including Indiana.

“But when they talk about doing it, one of the first things they mention is the critical need for people to do the job,” he said. “Basically, we’re talking about the need for 50,000 engineers just over the next few years. This is more than double what the United States currently produces. And there is an equally important need for technicians to operate these facilities.

Smith thinks the combined efforts of Purdue and Ivy Tech could help attract semiconductor companies to Indiana and potentially entice students to seek job opportunities in the state after graduation. .

“This partnership really is the best of both worlds,” she said. “We have some of the best research schools in the country, workforce degrees and a strong manufacturing presence. If you add it all up, plus the smart manufacturing degree we’ve built, and understand that many companies will integrate many autonomous systems, Indiana is a pretty attractive place from a workforce perspective.

Dave Roberts, executive vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation at IEDC, agrees.

“Due to the global chip shortage and its implications for national security, many semiconductor companies have a renewed interest in relocating semiconductor manufacturing to the United States. part of that effort will be the availability of talent,” he said. “Working in the design and manufacture of semiconductors requires specific training. By creating a semiconductor-specific curriculum, Purdue and Ivy Tech will create a workforce that can be used by semiconductor companies from day one.

“By having microelectronics manufacturers located in the state, [students] would be less likely to leave the state after graduation.

study others

In preparation for its partnership with Purdue, Ivy Tech consulted with representatives from Hudson Valley Community College in New York about the programs they offer in semiconductor technology. Smith said what the school learned from those conversations was key to planning for the Purdue partnership.

“The time frame to get an academic program online is about two years, but the good thing about a community college is that we can start with certificates and go through degrees. I think we could start offering certificates and certifications in about six months,” she said.

“We will look at what we already have and work with Purdue to develop what we don’t have. We will also be looking at other agencies across the country.

According to Bermel, Purdue has three primary goals relating to the development of the microelectronics workforce and its partnership with Ivy Tech.

“The first objective is to establish students with the basic knowledge they will need to be successful and then, secondly, to provide them with specific skills and abilities that are directly useful in the workplace,” he said. he declares. “Third, we want to connect students with potential employers through internships so they can see what it’s like to be in the industry and also establish a mutual fit between the student and a potential employer.

Michael A. Bynum