The American Association of Community Colleges hosted a webinar on Monday that featured Department of Commerce officials discussing opportunities available to community colleges under the CHIPS Act. The legislation will provide $50 billion over the next year or so to spur expansion and innovation in the semiconductor industry, and workforce development is a big part of the equation.
The three officials all work in the CHIPS for America program office housed within the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which is part of Commerce. The panelists outlined the basic structure of the programs that will be overseeing the distribution of funds and basic timing for when those opportunities will be available.
About $39 billion will go to companies and other entities largely to build or expand semiconductor factories and related facilities. The first of three planned Notice of Funding Opportunities is out now, with two more to follow: one in late spring and another later this year.
While community colleges are not eligible to directly receive these funds, entities applying for grants must detail their workforce development plans both for the workers that build the factory and for those that will work on the factory floor. Grantees are strongly encouraged to partner with education and training providers as part of this plan.
“Building the semiconductor ecosystem here in the United States is going to require training and inspiring a generation of new talent,” said Rachel Lipson, a senior policy advisor at Commerce.
The CHIPS officials discussed some of the ways that connections between training providers and companies are being made. They stressed the importance of industry sector partnerships and the fact that many of these discussions are happening at the regional level. They noted several potential roles for community colleges in addition to providing training, including raising awareness about job opportunities in the semiconductor industry and curriculum design and credentialing.
The other $11 billion is dedicated to research and development initiatives, which are still largely in the planning phase. Here, too, workforce development is a major focus. Much of the activity in the R&D area will center around the National Semiconductor Technology Center (NSTC), which is forming now.
Rodney Peterson, research and development education and workforce advisor at Commerce, said NSTC will serve as the “coordinating body and center of excellence to scale the technical workforce which will include scientists, engineers and technicians.” He noted that they recently released a white paper detailing the vision for the center.
A wealth of information about these programs is available at CHIPS.gov, including a subsite dedicated to workforce development.