Military Embedded Systems

TECHNOLOGY UPDATE: Workforce development a major piece of CHIPS Act investment


March 12, 2024

Lisa Daigle

Assistant Managing Editor

Military Embedded Systems

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo speaks at Georgetown University in February 2024

The White House announced in February 2024 that it will invest more than $5 billion in semiconductor-related research and development (R&D) and workforce needs, including establishing the National Semiconductor Technology Center (NSTC), to advance the government's goals of driving semiconductor progress.

As part of the implementation of the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, these investments are intended to advance U.S. leadership in semiconductor R&D, cut the time and cost of commercializing new technologies, enhance U.S. national security, encourage universities to devel­op engineering and semiconductor-focused programs, and support workers in gaining secure semiconductor and engineering jobs.

The recent announcement formally estab­lished a public-private consortium for the NSTC and laid out plans to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the U.S. semiconductor workforce, along with specifics on the government’s plans to fund programs in packaging and metrology.

The NSTC, says the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), is at the center of the CHIPS Act’s R&D effort. According to information from NIST, the NTSC is beginning the process of uniting government, industry, educational institutions, labor interests, customers, suppliers, entrepreneurs, and investors to accelerate the rate of semiconductor innovation and ultimately production. The NTSC will operate as a public-private consortium as it works to lower the barriers to companies’ participation in the semiconductor business and directly work to establish and facilitate a skilled, diverse semiconductor workforce.

The U.S. Department of Commerce oversees NIST, which is one of the nation’s oldest physical science laboratories and has as its mission to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology to enhance economic security and quality of life. Under the administration’s CHIPS for America effort, NIST manages the CHIPS Program Office, which is responsible for manufacturing incentives; and the CHIPS Research and Development Office, which oversees R&D programs.

On January 31, 2024, the Department of Commerce issued a Notice of Intent (NOI) to announce a competition for what it’s calling the CHIPS Manufacturing USA Institute, a program that will create a so-called digital twin center that will work on innovations in semiconductor and advanced packaging manufacturing.

In its NOI, NIST and the commerce department stated that the CHIPS Manufacturing USA Institute will strive to “… foster a collaborative environment to significantly expand innovation, bring tangible benefits to manufacturers of all sizes, strengthen diverse research institutions, and ensure a national reach in workforce development.”

The CHIPS Manufacturing USA Institute is expected to establish a facility where companies can experiment while protecting proprietary information, conduct relevant research projects, share tools and equipment that will enable large and small members to innovate at low cost, and participate in educational and workforce development programs.

This digital twin-style facility – as described in the White House announcement – will serve as a virtual manufacturing floor, simulating a physical floor in real time to discover ways to improve products and expedite processes. Whereas a shift in equipment or manufacturing processes can drastically slow down production on a physical floor, digital twin technology will enable users to assess techniques before making costly decisions, and thereby improve capacity planning, production optimization, facility upgrades, and real-time process adjustments.

“CHIPS research and development programs are at the core of our greatest innovations and help to find the solutions for the semiconductor industry’s most pressing challenges. With strategic investments in R&D complementing targeted industry incentives, CHIPS for America will not only bring semiconductor manufacturing back to the U.S. – it will keep it here for good,” said Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. “As we create opportunities for good-paying jobs, the workforce initiatives, such as the NSTC Workforce Center of Excellence, will help ensure a diverse, skilled, and prepared workforce across the nation.”

In a separate February 2024 address at Georgetown University, Secretary Raimondo emphasized the need for a trained technology workforce and urged chip manufacturers, construction companies, and unions to work toward the national goal of hiring and training another million women in construction over the next decade to meet the demand in chips and associated infrastructure projects. She also called on semi­conductor companies to work with high schools and colleges to train 100,000 new technicians over the next decade through apprenticeships, career and technical education, and career-pathway programs.

“If we don’t invest in America’s manufacturing workforce, it doesn’t matter how much we spend,” said Raimondo. “We will not succeed. If we get this right, the U.S. semiconductor workforce will be the gold standard for other industries to follow.”