Maricopa Community Colleges offering course for those who want to work at semiconductor factories

Tech companies are moving out of California’s Silicon Valley, and migrating to Arizona’s growing Silicon Desert.

These days, industry titans are setting up shops in the Phoenix area, creating thousands of new jobs, and establishing Arizona's status as a worldwide technological hub.

Currently, both Intel and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) are building several brand-new plants, with Intel building two new plants in Chandler, and TSMC building a new plant in far north Phoenix.

TSMC's plant is expected to begin production in 2024, and it is expected to push out around 20,000 wafers, or a slice of silicon that serves as the foundation of a microchip, a month.

 These plants will be used to help create a tiny chip that is essential to nearly every piece of technology.

The new plants also mean there will be a need for new workers, and companies are currently looking to hire several thousand of them.

For these jobs, prospective candidates don’t have to have an advanced degree in science or math to join, and Arizona residents can access a 10-day training course to qualify for entry-level semiconductor factory positions, at no cost.

"Intel and a few other semiconductor companies approached us to develop this course," said Chandler-Gilbert Community College Associate Deal of Workforce Development Tom Pearson.

CGCC is one of three campuses offering a ‘boot camp’ style course, which is designed to train future semiconductor processing technicians.

"It lasts two weeks, every day, Monday through Friday," said Pearson. "Four hours a day, and that’s 40 hours of training."

Ultimately, graduates are expected to be ready to pass two certification tests. There are already more than 1,300 people on the waitlist to get into the Semiconductor Technician Quickstart Program.

"You're going to get the basics, like how to use hand tools, hydraulics, and electronics," said Intel Equipment Technician Jeff Davis.

The only pre-requisite is being accepted into one of the Maricopa Community Colleges. Instructors for the course are current employees in the semiconductor industry. Davis is one of the instructors.

'So, you’ll have a piece of equipment that you’re responsible for, and your job is to make sure that one section, that one step in making that microchip, gets done correctly, and it moves on to the next step. So it’s really broken down into small tasks and small parts," said Davis.

"It’s a team experience from the beginning," said student Bradley McCaskey. "It’s not an individual learning experience."

One unique requirement for the job is to wear a special uniform at work, all day. The uniform helps keep particles from the human body from entering the factory. Semiconductor technicians work in clean rooms, where airborne particles are restricted due to concerns it may impact the chips.

Tuition for the program could potentially cost nothing. Students that successfully pass the certification tests will receive a $270 stipend, which is the full cost of tuition.

Intel and TSMC alone are expected to create more than 3,000 jobs at their new factories, and Arizona is leading the nation when it comes to pay for these positions.

"Entry-level pay for an apprentice, very entry-level, is $20-$25 an hour," said Pearson. "Average pay is over $30 an hour, and it goes up from there."

The entry-level job of this generation is rather still similar to working at a fast food joint, in that workers will be part of an assembly line. In this particular case, the technicians are processing tiny electronic parts to end the global chip shortage and quench the world’s appetite for the latest technologies.

Semiconductor Technician Quick Start at Maricopa Community Colleges