Oregon’s chip industry, faced with labor shortages, is turning to TV and radio advertising – and hiring people who are still in school

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Intel’s mission is to run TV commercials during Portland’s Sunday Night Football, one of the most popular shows on television – but not to sell its microprocessors.

It tries to attract workers.

And at a time when most young professionals are in demand in restaurants, hotels, bus companies, and health clinics, Intel may want to try advanced microcircuit manufacturing instead.

The microelectronics industry is facing a particular labor shortage. The demand has risen from almost all chip manufacturers. And Intel, the state’s largest corporate employer, plans to open a $ 3 billion factory expansion in Hillsboro early next year that will create hundreds more jobs.

Electronics companies big and small say they are struggling to find workers, so they put up billboards, buy television and radio commercials, and hire new employees who are still in school to plug the holes.

“I think a lot of people have the wrong idea that Intel is that black box or that Intel only hires people with a Masters or Ph.D. degree,” said Intel spokeswoman Elly Akopyan. She said the company’s advertising campaign is aimed at demystifying chip manufacturing and making it clear that it is a job almost anyone can do.

“We need to build a pipeline of manufacturing people to work for us,” Akopyan said.

Oregon exported $ 15 billion in electronics last year, 60% of all the state’s exports. The state’s electronics production rose another 26% through the first half of 2021, reflecting the huge demand for chips that power computers, smartphones, cars, trucks, and home appliances.

Portland area manufacturers would certainly make more chips – if only they could find the workers to do the job.

“It looks like I get a call every other week that says, ‘I could hire 100 people now,'” said Eric Kirchner, chairman of the microelectronics division at Portland Community College. Intel didn’t say labor shortages were limiting production, but many others in the industry did.

Technology is one of Oregon’s largest industries, and it is just as important to the state’s economy today as woodworking was in the heyday of the 1970s. And electronics manufacturing pays off well.

Chip maker Watlow announced last week it was hiring 20 technicians for its Hillsboro site at a starting salary of $ 25 an hour, with a loyalty bonus for those who stay with the company and an annual company performance bonus.

According to Kirchner, microelectronics graduates at Portland Community College typically earn a starting salary of about $ 60,000 after completing the two-year program. And he said that wages rise sharply as workers gain experience.

But Kirchner said recruiting has always been a challenge. The work is usually carried out invisibly in windowless clean rooms that keep the electronics free from microscopic contamination. So there is very little awareness of what the job is, he said, let alone what it pays.

“People think, oh, this is high tech, I don’t understand high tech. I can’t do that, ”said Kirchner. “Anyone can be a technician. We train you in technical matters. You need people who work in teams and show up for work on time and maintain a schedule or follow a procedure or checklist. You don’t have to be a technical genius to do something like this. “

Of Intel’s 21,000 employees in Oregon, approximately 10% have a Ph.D. The company’s Washington County campus is home to the most advanced research.

But for the jobs that Intel advertises on television, it is only aiming for a high school diploma – and the opportunity to be on your feet all day.

Austin Robertson had planned to become a nurse after graduating from high school seven years ago. But a few years after his education, he decided it didn’t suit him. After working at Safeway and in a Columbia County jail, a friend suggested that Robertson try electronics manufacturing instead.

So he started an associate degree program at Portland Community College. Robertson takes intermittent classes and therefore does not expect to complete coursework within two years. But Intel hired him anyway. He’s third month as a technician, learning on the job and adapting his college course to his work schedule.

“I love it. It’s the best job I’ve ever had,” said Robertson. He said he has found a career that makes sense to work in a progressive industry and explore a new field.

“It’s just about working with a lot of knowledgeable people and doing things that are practical,” said Robertson. “It just feels like I’m doing something important.”

This is exactly what manufacturers want to hear from their new employees. But there doesn’t seem to be many other people who think that way.

With wages rising across all industries in Oregon and numerous job openings, Kirchner said many people are choosing to work rather than enroll in his program.

“We are as low as I can remember with the number of new students, that really hurts,” said Kirchner. “That means that in two years we won’t be doing many more graduates.”

While many people can learn on the job, Kirchner said the additional training would move forward and position them for promotions and higher pay in the future as they become more productive as their careers progress.

Manufacturing equipment maker Lam Research has created 1,000 jobs in the past 18 months on its 52-acre Tualatin campus and plans to hire 300 more for a new factory opening this fall in nearby Sherwood. To meet this increased demand, Lam has hired freshman electronics students at Portland Community College to work part-time during their undergraduate studies.

“Technicians with applied science degrees are so unavailable that they say, ‘We’re going to grow our own,'” said Bill Manley, a PCC employment specialist who works for the microelectronics industry.

Electronics manufacturers say it takes about two months to familiarize a new hire with the basics of the job and a year to be fully qualified in some areas. So there is no quick fix in sight for an industry that would prefer to hire experienced employees.

“We resort to hiring other people and going through longer training periods and hope that we can build them up over time. But they’re not getting really effective anytime soon, ”said Frank Nichols, founder of boutique manufacturer Silicon Forest Electronics in Vancouver. He said his clients have a year to go to work for his company, but the staff shortage limits the degree to which he can benefit from it.

“The outlook is actually very bright,” said Nichols, “if we find the people.”

– Mike Rogoway | [email protected] | Twitter: @rogoway |



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