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Wanted: Trained Workers for Semiconductor Industry

A dynamic industry which provides the basic operating function of everything from the Internet and digital electronics to cellular phones needs a trained workforce. Pennsylvania wants to promote the growth of this high-impact industry.

Through a partnership of two central Pennsylvania educational institutions and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, eligible state residents are being offered tuition grants to prepare to compete for jobs in the state’s $296.4 million-a-year semiconductor industry.

Pennsylvania’s 61 semiconductor manufacturers employ nearly 6,500 people. Worldwide, the semiconductor industry is estimated to be larger than the automobile and steel industries combined.

For those interested in entering this exciting field, the starting gate is at Pennsylvania College of Technology, in Williamsport, an affiliate of The Pennsylvania State University.

Students complete three semesters at Penn College, followed by a fourth semester at Penn State’s $11 million Nanofabrication Facility in the Electronic Materials and Processing Research Laboratory on the University Park campus.

“This program is a pathway into a growing industry that is a foundation for virtually every other technology today,” said Dr. Eric K. Albert, dean of the School of Industrial & Engineering Technologies at Penn College. “Semiconductors are essential. Just about everything has these solid-state devices from computers to cars to coffeepots.”

He added, “We believe we have a high-quality program which capitalizes on the strengths of our two institutions Penn College, as a workforce development school, and Penn State with its world-class laboratory facilities.”

Four Penn College students, who had already completed their first year of study in the electronics technology major when the semiconductor manufacturing program opened this fall, opted for the new emphasis. They are now at University Park completing their final semester.

Enrollment in the associate degree program is expected to rise each year to a maximum of 20 participants per semester. (In addition, the initiative also aims to provide professional development courses to industry personnel.)

“Like any new program, it takes time to get students involved and for the initial students to report back on their experiences, confirming that they like what they’re doing and they’re getting good jobs,” Albert commented. To ensure the success of its graduates, he added, Penn College regularly solicits curriculum input from business and industry.

“The development process focused on asking industry what they needed in their workforce, what key strengths they were looking for in employees,” Albert said. “We designed this against criteria developed by high-level industry people.”

Industry leaders, Harris Semiconductor and Lucent Technologies, as well as a smaller company, GMT Microelectronics, in Norristown, provided curriculum development direction and support. All are expected to hire talented graduates.

“Through our program, the students will be well prepared for the field they will enter,” Albert ensured, adding that the semiconductor industry “is unique in its culture and its expectations of what employees need.”

Albert noted that the most striking feature in the industry is “working in a clean room which calls for special, protective suiting. It is an indoor-controlled environment which requires specific knowledge about chemicals and hazardous materials. The work is very precision-oriented, with high quantities produced under stringent quality controls.”

State tuition grants are available for graduates who choose to remain and work in Pennsylvania.

“The state is kick-starting this,” Albert explained, “and, ultimately, my hope is to get enough industry involvement to generate a pool of scholarships from industry.”

In addition to the electronics technology/semiconductor manufacturing emphasis major, Penn College offers more than 80 associate degrees in numerous applied technology fields as well as the opportunity to earn bachelor of science degrees in over 20 technology majors.

For more information on Penn College and its educational opportunities, contact the Office of Admissions at 1-800-367-9222.

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