As part of my work at Penn State, I am in the front lines of the end result of the passing of the CHIPS and Science Act, which Joe Biden signed into law last August.
By on the front lines, I mean being part of the huge amount of work that is necessary after a bill is signed. Many people think that once the president signs a bill, that’s the whole show, but a ton is put in motion behind the scenes as soon as the ink dries.
In this case, there is a lot of work happening to restore America’s prominence in semiconductors. This is important stuff, as I wrote on First Draft last September:
See, given this isn’t First Draft, the magazine you bought at the newsstand, and is First Draft, the online blog, the reason you are reading this post is due to semiconductors, better known to most as “chips.” Semiconductors are materials whose conductivity varies – in some cases it can act as an insulator, and in some cases it can act as a conductor. Perhaps the most famous of these materials is silicon. You might know this material for its importance in making computer chips, which include integrated circuits that can be used for either memory or processing and…I see I am losing you.
Anyway, they are pretty damn important, and are only going to get more important. Rail about technology all you want and claim to live a mostly tech-free life (odd if you are reading this unless you got your great-grandkid to print this out), but semiconductors are everywhere. Their applications include automobiles, sensors, appliances, military uses, space exploration, LED lighting, and so on. And despite the horrors of social media, they actually are beneficial.
For example, LED lights are no longer just novelties, but a low-energy lighting source with a low carbon footprint. They are also going to become more common. As will sensors, which are going to become more ubiquitous as well as we move into an Industry 4.0 world (industry-four-point-what now? Learn more here).
We learned how important the semiconductor supply chain is when it got disrupted during the COVID pandemic and automobile prices shot through the roof. That got a lot of people to start looking hard at the current American semiconductor situation, and many were alarmed at what they saw.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the United States’ share of global semiconductor fabrication capacity has been on a steady decline for decades, falling from approximately 40% in 1990 to 12% in 2020. Meanwhile, East Asia has been steadily investing in their semiconductor industry, so 80% of global chip fabrication is now done in that part of the world.
So, to get us back in the semiconductor saddle, many things will have to happen. I covered a lot of stuff in that post, from national security to how semiconductors are as important to the economy as fossil fuels. This will require a lot of workforce development.
Part of this effort is the development of regional hubs, partnerships among universities, industry, and government. Penn State is driving one such hub. I would say at least half of the efforts are around workforce.
This is potentially an opportunity for many areas that are struggling. For example, rural northcentral Pennsylvania. As this graphic shows, this is not an economic boom area.
For places like this that are well below the national average in median income, a semiconductor plant would be welcome. In fact, another industry, powder metal fabrication, has become a hub in northcentral Pennsylvania, providing 10,000 jobs and 40% of the world’s powder metal parts fabrication. Hard to imagine just how bad poverty would be in that area without that particular industry.
Technology does not have to be all in California or Texas. Biden visited the site of a future semiconductor plant in Ohio last year. These plants can be anywhere.
In order to pull this off, we as a nation need to develop a new kind of workforce development plan. This includes higher education institutions working with government and industry partners to provide not just degrees, but certification-level education. Along with developing tech skills, this would also include training in so-called soft skills such as communication, teamwork, and critical thinking that are necessary to succeed in this industry.
K-12 education needs to play a role as well, including boosting our science education (for example, physics education in the U.S. is dire). And community colleges will be huge as well, given they serve the majority of higher education’s low-income students and students of color.
As is always the case, diversity and inclusion is important. This is not being “woke” or whatever, this is about casting a wide net for workers and pulling in underserved populations. Trust me, corporations in the tech world are realizing this.
In addition, immigrants on work visas will be needed to fill these jobs. Being anti-immigration is simply going the wrong way, because this is one of many examples why we need a good and fair immigration system.
So, the CHIPS Act holds a lot of potential and a lot of opportunity for areas that may have been left behind economically. It should be reason for hope. And it should be something that Biden can point to in 2024 as a selling point, because it was long overdue and will help a lot of people.
The last word is more like a last dance, to the late Tina Turner. Ike Turner was a monster, and Tina getting away from his clutches is one of the greatest stories of our time. The two of them did, however, put out some incredible entertainment, and it was clear early on that Tina Turner was an immense talent. Watch for an absolutely dumbfounded Sammy Davis Jr. experiencing Tina’s energy upclose, at around the 1:25 mark.
One thought on “The CHIPS Act And The Promise Of Good Jobs”
I’m glad somebody in Washington realized Not just our general dependence on external manufacturers but also what the consequences would be if the PRC took Taiwan and their preeminent semiconductor industry.