An engineer analyzes a computer chip in a lab. Oregon lawmakers want to grow the semiconductor industry workforce and help schools train future workers. (Getty Images)
Oregon’s semiconductor industry and educators want state lawmakers to allocate more money to help the industry become a larger part of the state’s economy.
Last session, lawmakers approved $500 million in grants, loans and tax credits to grow the industry. That’s on top of $52 billion the federal government plans to spend nationwide, and Oregon is vying for a large share. The state accounts for about 15% of the semiconductor workforce nationwide.
On Tuesday, state economic development officials and educators testified before the state House Committee on Economic Development and Small Business in a meeting to prepare lawmakers for the 2024 session. They brought a plan and ideas for increasing the industry’s workforce.
The industry has committed to $40 billion worth of projects that are likely to create 7,300 jobs, including 1,000 in construction, Kyle Ritchey-Noll, the Oregon Business Council’s education and workforce policy director, told the panel.
“We know that the success of Oregon’s semiconductor industry depends upon building and attracting a world-class workforce,” Ritchey-Noll said. “Talent is often one of the number one factors driving decisions for companies about where to invest. Oregon’s education systems are producing high-quality graduates, but not nearly enough to meet the industry’s large and growing demand.”
She and others also discussed a proposal from the state’s semiconductor coalition, which includes Intel, Ampere, colleges and universities, that has several parts.
One includes creating a statewide industry consortium with representatives from the semiconductor companies, schools and workforce organizations to work together on plans to develop and attract talent in Oregon. The consortium would work with the Higher Education Coordinating Commission on a statewide strategy, with an eye on using education and research to advance the industry.
It also calls for a state “semiconductor talent sustaining fund” for the long-term future to pay for education, training and research. The proposal says the industry needs $30 million for education: $5 million for science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related programs, or STEM, for students in K-12; $10 million for community college workforce programs; $10 million for advanced degrees and research programs at universities; and $5 million for hiring faculty at universities.
“Quick legislative action is required to deliver on Oregon’s commitment to provide a skilled semiconductor workforce,” Ritchey-Noll said.
Seeds for semiconductor careers can get planted before college. At Forest Grove High School, a career and technical education program provides hands-on training in robotics and electronics projects, said Jace McNeil, a mechatronics teacher at the school, located west of Portland.
For example, the students build three-dimensional models of Lego blocks in computer design software in the classroom and test their ideas outside.“We design, simulate and launch rockets from the soccer field in the spring,” he said.
The program prepares students for entry into Portland Community College’s microelectronics technology program, an associate’s degree that prepares people to work as technicians in the semiconductor industry, he said.
That training can lead to good careers, but with more funding, the programs could help Oregon become a global leader in the semiconductor industry for years to come, said Karen Paez, the college’s associate vice president of academic and career pathways.
Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Clackamas and the committee’s chair, said the state needs a long-term plan and outlook.
“Five years out, what do we want to see and how can we work towards that?” Bynum said. “Because our legislative process looks at us every two years with a budget. I don’t know that that’s sufficient. I would like to see us go five to 10 years out so that we have a longer term outlook.”
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