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Semiconductor organization says education key to future

Semiconductor organization says education key to future

President discusses growth, challenges at Saratoga trade show
Semiconductor organization says education key to future
Photographer: Shutterstock

SARATOGA SPRINGS — As it holds its annual technical gathering in Saratoga Springs, an electronics industry trade group is looking not just at new technology but at how to develop the next generation of experts.

David Anderson, president of SEMI Americas, said one of the greatest obstacles to the growth of his industry is shortage of talent and a lack of awareness by the general public about the field and why it is important.

SEMI Americas is one of seven regional units of SEMI, a global industry association serving the manufacturing supply chain for the electronics industry. SEMICON West in San Francisco is the major annual gathering for SEMI Americas, while Advanced Semiconductor Manufacturing Conference, underway through Thursday at the Saratoga Hilton, is the signature technical event, Anderson said. It focuses on the things that will make the industry grow more quickly.

Originally, he said, the location of ASMC would rotate each year and attendance would fluctuate. Now, it has settled in Saratoga Springs because of its proximity to so many points of interest: research/development at SUNY Poly in Albany, manufacturing at GlobalFoundries in Malta, academic and vocational training at multiple colleges.

“Attendees really enjoy coming there,” Anderson said. ASMC draws heavily from the Northeast but attracts people from all over the world, he said, about 400 each year.

He spoke to The Daily Gazette on Tuesday about some of the issues facing the industry.

EDUCATION

The Tech Valley region needs a strategy and commitment to support the high tech community that justifies its nickname, Anderson said.

“The education infrastructure needs to evolve to meet the needs,” he said. “As those programs age, they need to morph with the needs of the industry. I think there’s opportunities to establish workforce development programs around the universities.”

One of SEMI’s roles is to look into the future and identify threats to the industry, Anderson said. In a survey, 75 percent of respondents identified recruitment as a problem, so SEMI has placed  a strong focus on workforce development.

SEMI’s High Tech U initiative gives high school students a look at the industry to build their interest in a career centered on science, technology, engineering and math. A similar program puts industry professionals in universities for career development seminars, again with the goal of giving students a sense of what it is like to work in the field.

“It’s been a very fruitful program,” Anderson said of High Tech U.

MONEY

Meanwhile, there’s a long history of local, state and federal governments providing research funding, and that it needs to continue, Anderson said.

He said he understands opposition to public subsidies for private industry in the free market system, and not just in a high-tax state like New York: “I think you have that sentiment everywhere.”

However, he added, those tax dollars are investments that have proven benefits for economic development.

In the Albany and Austin regions, for example, public support has created industry clusters with their own momentum. The GlobalFoundries computer chip factory in Malta, beneficiary of more than $1 billion in public subsidies, has grown to more than 3,000 employees, Anderson noted. It’s now a key part of an ecosystem that employs thousands more in related jobs and supports thousands of unrelated jobs in the surrounding community.

IMAGE

The world semiconductor industry was valued at less than $4 billion in 1978 and more than $400 billion in 2017, which is more than the gross domestic product of all but the richest 30 or so nations.

It is in a renaissance today, Anderson said, freed from the growth/contraction cycles of the past by the near-universal inclusion today of computer chips in everything from automatic coffee makers to autonomous cars.

Despite the universal role this technology plays in most people’s lives, many still have only a vague idea of what it is and why it’s important, Anderson said.

“Intel Inside” was a good marketing campaign, he said, because it branded Intel’s chips as a valuable feature people should look for.

More of this is needed, Anderson said.

“Kids think a cellphone is a mechanical device,” he said. “People don’t realize the complexity of the technology.”

SEMI Americas has mounted an image awareness campaign to accomplish this: The theme at SEMICON West last year was “Smart Starts Here” and this year it’s “Beyond Smart.”

“It’s really getting a recognition and awareness of what we do,” Anderson said.

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