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OPINION: Job Growth is Coming to New York: We Must Step Up to Meet Demand

By Robert Pasinella

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Bringing the semiconductor industry back to the United States has been no easy feat. After the federal CHIPS Act was signed into law earlier this year, states across the country began taking strides to further cement the U.S. as the future home of semiconductor R&D and manufacturing. Most recently in New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul launched the Office of Strategic Workforce Development Grant Programs, which will divide $150 million between workforce development and education initiatives in high-demand industries, such as semiconductor manufacturing. 

New York has continued to take the spotlight as an emerging global hub in the technology and semiconductor sector. Last month, Micron and Edwards Vacuum pledged to invest in billion-dollar manufacturing facilities in Central and Western New York, respectively. Existing companies in the state, like IBM, Wolfspeed, and GlobalFoundries, also announced expansions to their fabrication facilities, altogether promising hundreds of new jobs.

These innovators are setting the stage for the future — as New York state persists as a semiconductor powerhouse. Building new facilities in this state is a significant and promising step for economic development, but New York needs to provide more than just real estate to the semiconductor industry. We need to be at the forefront of the innovation process and invest in intellectual capital.

Over the past few decades, we’ve seen automation take over the manufacturing industry, absorbing tens of thousands of jobs. While this continues, companies have begun to disrupt this trend by creating new technologies where humans are essential to workflow. Chip designers and engineers are needed now, more than ever, as these technologies require high-skilled workers. However, a massive shortage of designers exists due to the lack of education and training.

Chip design is an often-overlooked human-based component of the industry. If we can develop new processes to help people use their creative abilities to build designs and fabricate them onto a chip, we have a winning combination to mitigate this shortage and advance economic development. 

As new technology demands grow in New York, so does the need for technical workers. There is space for innovation in workforce development that requires participation from academia and the commercial sector. Continued workforce development and employment-readiness programs must be implemented within schools and companies to sustain New York’s projected growth. 

Previously, training programs in the U.S. focused solely on higher education rather than retraining employees with the necessary skills. Today, with new tools being introduced to the market at fast rates, universities do not have the in-house resources to prepare students for the challenge of working in emerging tech fields. This needs to change — we need more agile programs. 

Apprentice and certification programs designed to complement current academic models and pair education with hands-on training centers is how New York can create a better-prepared workforce. Initiatives like these are already happening in the state at a minor level — Efabless, an open-source design platform, and NYDesign, a local not-for-profit organization, launched a pilot program this fall offering courses and eventually certifications in chip design to students. Participating academic institutions include Mohawk Valley Community College and Hudson Valley Community College. Developing outreach programs that focus on inclusivity for all populations will increase retention in the field and provide opportunities for underserved communities. High-demand and high-skilled careers are not just for the elite — they’re for everyone.

Beginning at the K-12 level, there are many avenues to increase younger generations’ exposure to STEM initiatives and programs. For instance, Redemption Christian Academy, a local school in the Capital Region, recently launched a fall semester STEM pilot program. Students from diverse backgrounds gained valuable experience and training in tech-based careers. NYDesign was one organization that taught students about integrated circuit design and designers’ roles in the semiconductor industry. 

If we can push these initiatives further to reach individuals within higher education and established companies, New York’s workforce will see massive growth in intellectual power. Economic development is about more than just creating jobs and building physical infrastructure. It’s a continuous investment in enhancing public knowledge and education within emerging fields. By developing comprehensive programs that are innovative and disruptive, New York will stay ahead of the curve for economic success.                          


Robert Pasinella is president of the Rensselaer County Industrial Development Agency (RCIDA).