Intel bets big on American-made computer chips—and the workforce to build them

As Intel makes a $20 billion bet on making semiconductors in Ohio, it’s also investing big—$100 million—in education and training for the workers it will need.

Ohio and Intel made big news last week, as the company announced plans to bring its semiconductor manufacturing to the Buckeye State and build a $20-billion site to do so. To staff up, Intel also plans to spend an estimated $100 million to develop and run new education, training, and research programs in partnership with the state’s universities, community colleges and technical schools.  

The new facility, to be located in New Albany, a suburb northeast of Columbus, will be Intel’s first new manufacturing site in 40 years. One of the company’s major goals is to produce more computer chips—the brains that power much of modern life, from cars to computers to appliances—in the United States. Shortages of the chips, which are mostly manufactured in Asia, have led to supply chain problems for auto manufacturers and other industries during the pandemic. 

The big idea: Intel projects the first phase will result in 3,000 new high-tech jobs—ranging from technician roles that require a two-year degree to engineers and researchers with PhDs—which will pay an average of $135,000 a year. The new site will also create 7,000 construction jobs, and suppliers are expected to add thousands more jobs as they set up near the Intel facility. Construction is slated to begin this year, and the site should be operational by 2025.

To meet its goals, the company can’t just tap existing talent, but must train up thousands of workers.

“Everything from associate degrees up to the highest-end PhD degrees,” Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger said. “We need the full range of capabilities.”  

States compete: Educating and training those workers needed will be the job of Ohio’s higher education system. The centerpiece of that work will be the Intel Ohio Semiconductor Center for Innovation, which the company will create and grow with a $100 million commitment over 10 years. Intel will partner with universities, community colleges, and the U.S. National Science Foundation to build semiconductor-specific curricula and broaden research in the industry.

The strength and variety of Ohio’s higher education system—14 public universities, 74 private universities, 23 community colleges, and 52 other technical training centers—was one of the major reasons Intel leaders said they chose Ohio over other possible locations. 

“It’s really a vote of confidence in Ohio’s higher education partners, from community colleges through our largest research universities,” said Randy Gardner, the chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education. “In this case, all of our sectors of higher ed have an important role to play in Intel’s future and the state’s future.” 

The institutions’ track record of collaboration with one another and with employers was critical, Gardener said. Higher education leaders pay attention to industry needs, both statewide and at the local level, and work to align education programs with what they’re hearing from employers, he said. 

“There’s a lot of positive momentum in Ohio with working with the business community, listening to the needs of a rapidly changing economy,” Gardner said.

Responding to a new industry need

A rendering of plans for two new leading-edge Intel processor factories in Licking County, Ohio. (Intel Corporation)

The Intel plan is the latest example of major companies making significant investments in worker education and training, alongside big investments in new manufacturing plants. Ford, for example, recently announced plans for new multi-million dollar training sites in Tennessee in Kentucky. 

Ohio State president Kristina M. Johnson spoke at the Intel announcement, alongside the governor and Intel’s CEO, a nod to the critical role that higher education institutions will play in establishing the semiconductor industry in the state. Johnson is an engineer and inventor who was known for making university-industry connections at her previous job as chancellor of the State University System of New York.  

“Success here will require well-educated scientists, engineers, technicians, and managers,” Johnson said.

The details: Ohio State will focus on developing the business managers, scientists, and engineers, and will partner with two-year colleges to educate technicians and operators. Details on what exactly these partnerships and connections will look like are still in the works. Ohio State said it hopes to share more information about the education, research, and training it will provide in the coming months.

But it is clear that a major piece of the work will be faculty training and curriculum development. Ohio State will work closely with the Department of Higher Education and the entire system on that.

The goal, Johnson said: “Preparing the workforce to support the semiconductor industry for decades to come.”

Statewide effort: For their part, community colleges across Ohio are working with their state association to coordinate information and initial plans. Institutions like Central Ohio Technical College and Columbus State Community College will play an outsized role because of their proximity to the New Albany site. But John M. Berry, president of COTC, said the effort will require all of the state’s 23 community colleges given the sheer number of skilled technicians Intel and its suppliers will need.

“We’ll need all of us to be a part of the pipeline,” Berry said.

COTC has already begun talking with Columbus State about how they can work together, Berry said. And the colleges are expecting to hear from Intel in the next two weeks about initial seed-money grants to get programs off the ground. They’ll be looking to the two-year institutions near Intel’s other manufacturing facilities in Oregon and Arizona to study their semiconductor curriculum.

Building on experience 

Ohio State University-Newark, located near the new Intel campus, will offer a new bachelor’s degree in engineering technology with a specialization in advanced manufacturing starting in 2021. The university works closely with Central Ohio Technical College, which shares its campus. (Courtesy of OSU-Newark)

While building the new education and training programs will be a big lift, the state’s universities and colleges aren’t starting from scratch. They’ve long focused on responding to the industry needs—and in Ohio, no industry is bigger than manufacturing. 

Ohio State, for example, recently created a new bachelor’s degree in engineering technology with a specialization in advanced manufacturing, on advice from manufacturers. The degree program, which started in 2020, is only available at three of the university’s regional campuses. It will begin at a fourth regional campus, near the new Intel site, in 2023. 

The program is designed to create business-minded engineers who can run the “factories of the future” and is designed to be adaptable to what industry needs. Students work in local manufacturing plants as part of their education. 

During a recent state of the university speech, Johnson said that listening to industry is key for helping students and the state succeed. “We also need to listen very attentively to Ohio businesses in order to create the workforce they need and to get our students ready for emerging opportunities.”

She highlighted the new regional campus program as an example of that. “We have it within our power to spur a renaissance in manufacturing.”

Lifting up communities

That could be a renaissance for communities too. Higher education leaders stress the potential for creating new opportunities for individuals, including those typically underrepresented in STEM careers.

“Given our increasingly diverse student bodies, the Intel semiconductor campus and the many spinout jobs it will create can help close racial, ethnic, and gender gaps in STEM employment and income,” Johnson said. “At Ohio State, as at Intel, those of us who have great lives because of our own access to STEM and STEAM education are committed to spreading such opportunities as widely as possible.” 

Parting thought: Eric Heiser, provost of Central Ohio Technical College, echoes that idea. The jobs at Intel, with average salaries of $135,000, have the opportunity to transform the lives of people currently in low-wage jobs who can now access a high-paying career with a two-year degree. 

“I don’t think it’s cliche or overdramatic to say this is generational and life changing for the residents of this area and those that are going to be employed,” Heiser said.

“We talk about jobs to career, that’s exactly what’s going on here—moving students out of lower paying jobs to working in Intel or one of their distributors, making six figures coming out of a community college. That’s an awesome thing.”

Related Posts
Download the Work Shift Guide to Understanding New Collar Apprenticeships