Intel’s New Semiconductor Plants Need Workers. Community Colleges Are Stepping Up.

Community college students will have access to key opportunities as part of Intel's new $20 billion manufacturing plants in central Ohio.
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  • Intel is investing $20 billion in semiconductor plants in Ohio.
  • Many of the jobs at those plants will be accessible with an associate degree.
  • Community colleges are working closely with Intel to develop curriculum for those positions.

Tech giant Intel Corp. is set to invest $20 billion in two semiconductor plants in central Ohio, and community college students will have easy access to thousands of jobs as part of that investment.

The vast majority of the more than 12,000 new semiconductor jobs coming to Ohio as part of Intel's investment will be available with an associate degree, according to Columbus State Community College, which is leading a statewide community college semiconductor training collaborative. Roughly 70% of the jobs will be technician roles that require only a two-year degree and will involve maintaining manufacturing equipment.

Intel plans to invest roughly $100 million over the next 10 years to train workers in partnership with community colleges and universities in Ohio, according to a press release from the company.

Semiconductors are essential and highly complicated components of computers and other electronic devices, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association. They are also referred to as "integrated circuits" and "microchips."

Two-year schools are uniquely positioned to quickly adapt to local workforce needs, said Ohio Association of Community Colleges President and CEO Jack Hershey, and the Intel plants present a massive opportunity for both community colleges and their students.

Hershey told BestColleges the arrival of semiconductor manufacturing in Ohio was initially daunting for community colleges.

"It's a brand new industry," Hershey said.

Intel's plant will be "akin to building a small city, which brings forth a vibrant community of supporting services and suppliers," Keyvan Esfarjani, Intel's senior vice president of manufacturing, said in the press release last year.

In working with Intel to develop new curriculum, however, Hershey said community colleges realized that much of their existing curriculum fits with the company's workforce needs, partly thanks to Ohio's manufacturing-heavy economy.

"We found that about 80% of what we were already teaching in the manufacturing space works for Intel," Hershey said, "and so we've got about 20% to add onto it. We are working with them and their experts right now to develop a curriculum that can be added into that. We hope to have that ready to roll out to every community college in the state by summer."

That fast turnaround on the new curriculum would mean that students could begin taking semiconductor-related training in the fall, Hershey said. That will likely include smaller course packages for people who already hold a credential from an Ohio community college who need to take only a few classes to qualify for an Intel job, Hershey said.

"The path to working at Intel, at some point, is going to take you through a community college in Ohio," he said. "That's exciting for us, and, quite honestly, it's a huge challenge. We wouldn't meet that challenge unless Intel was working so closely with us."

Intel isn't the only company that Ohio's community colleges work closely with. Hershey said advanced manufacturing companies across the state have increasingly looked to and worked with community colleges in a bid to close workforce gaps in recent years.

"No matter what industry and no matter what corner of the state, we are hearing from employers across the board that they need more people to graduate from community colleges," Hershey said.

That focus on community colleges reflects a nationwide trend.

Major tech companies like Microsoft, IBM, and Google have partnered with community colleges to train workers, BestColleges previously reported, particularly in high-demand fields like cybersecurity.

Community colleges also serve as anchor institutions in their communities with close ties to local employers, Martha Parham, senior vice president for public relations at the American Association of Community Colleges, told BestColleges.

Community colleges "by design are responsive to the needs of their local workforce," Parham said, and often have established relationships with local businesses and governments.

"Community colleges are ready and know how to navigate getting that training out to students, and also ensuring that training is something their partners in the business sector will respect and ultimately hire," Parham said. "They have experience doing that. They do it all the time as part of their current mission. So they really are the best place to start for many of those high-tech companies."

Intel has been hit by a recent lag in sales, leading to layoffs at the company. But Columbus Business Firstreported that the company characterized the Ohio plants as an investment in the future.

The Intel plants are part of a broader, nationwide focus on creating advanced manufacturing jobs in the United States. The CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, passed by Congress last year, led to a wide swath of similar announcements from tech companies, according to a White House press release.