Texas Chip Companies Pivot to Leverage Apprenticeships

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Chip companies expanding their footprint in Texas must change how they approach talent intake as the semiconductor industry circles back to leveraging apprenticeships. They also educate the broader workforce on the opportunities available and how the industry underpins people’s daily lives.

In the second of two panel discussions hosted by the National Institute of Innovation and Technology (NIIT), semiconductor companies growing their footprint in Texas are transforming their culture to focus on skills over experience and allow for different types of apprenticeships.

ManpowerGroup understands the realities of the talent market, senior VP Isaac Hagan said, and thousands of people come into its offices daily trying to figure out their career paths. He said ManpowerGroup has greatly leveraged NIIT to help people migrate from a manufacturing job to one in semiconductors through emerging apprenticeship programs.

Hagan said many companies hire full-time employees from contingent labor—it’s a massive avenue for people to get hired by corporations. “We have a really nice model where people can take work that has an apprenticeship program on a temporary basis and then convert them to full-time,” he said. “It gives employers that flexibility they need.”

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A notable shift for ManpowerGroup as it supports semiconductor and advanced manufacturing companies is hiring for skills rather than just experience, Hagan said. “We hire skills, and we know what skills we need. We know where those skills exist in the market.”

Panel discussion with Texas semiconductor stakeholders.
Panel moderator Michelle Leydin Li (far right) guided a panel discussion with Texas semiconductor stakeholders on how they must adapt to leverage apprenticeships and emphasize skills over work experience. From left to right: Martha Ponge, Steve Armbruster, Johnnie Cain, Clara Neri-Mejia, Isaac Hagan. (Source: National Institute of Innovation and Technology)

Competitive landscape has broadened

Another new challenge is that chip companies are no longer just competing with each other for talent—other sectors, such as automotive and other technology companies, want the same skillsets, Hagan said.

Applied Materials, which collaborates with staffing companies like ManpowerGroup, must now compete with household brand names, added Clara Neri-Mejia, the company’s technical program manager in talent development and workforce development. “Tesla came into the picture, and then they just blew everything out of the water,” she said. “We had to look at different avenues.”

A registered apprentice program was part of the solution, Neri-Mejia said, although it wasn’t without its growing pains—it’s taken time to nurture it from an 80% attrition rate to an 80% retention rate. The program was missing structure and clarity as to what the path was for participants—it was a tough sell internally, too. “Our operations management team needed to know what the process was going to be and what the accommodations needed to be in order for them to get buy-in.”

Having more flexible pathways has improved the talent pool, Neri-Mejia said, as well as provided current employees avenues to grow their careers within Applied. She said didn’t realize the apprenticeship program was going to get so much attention. “It just took a life of its own.” In addition to Austin, Texas, Applied has similar programs in California.

Neri-Mejia said the company is looking at other ways of delivering apprenticeships, so it has a tiered approach.

NIIT president Michael Russo with Clara Neri-Mejia and Applied Materials apprentices.
NIIT president Michael Russo (third from right) with Clara Neri-Mejia and Applied Materials apprentices (Source: National Institute of Innovation and Technology)

Apprenticeships must provide a clear pathway

Flexibility is beneficial for other companies operating in Texas, such as NXP Semiconductors. Johnnie Cain, front-end operations training program manager, said the company is upscaling its current workforce thanks to the work of schools like Austin Community College District, which takes on the group sponsorship aspect by handling monitoring and reporting on apprenticeship progress, as well as collaboration with NIIT and regional workforce development organizations.

“It’s important to establish a clear pathway with structure and the training,” Cain said, which is where NIIT comes in. “They can provide that structure because we have manufacturing facilities both here in Austin, Texas, and in Chandler, Arizona. Having a similar structure and between the sites is really important.”

GlobalFoundries’ Steve Armbruster.
GlobalFoundries’ Steve Armbruster

Steve Armbruster, global head of people and organizational transformation at GlobalFoundries, said the company has developed a unified competency model that led to a talent hub, which was a relatively new skill for the company—it didn’t happen organically. He said it took a lot of courage and vision to get to the point where GlobalFoundries now has several hundred apprentices across its two U.S. fabs.

Armbruster said bringing in talent and building a workforce is more than a transactional relationship; it’s about the kind of organization you’re trying to build. “You’ve got to rethink the way you design career paths and promote people,” he said.

Organizations like NIIT help to accelerate talent development and acquisition by eliminating bureaucracy, Armbruster said. “Speed has to be the norm as the workforce expands.”

Competency trumps experience

Armbruster encourages semiconductor companies to look at their internal talent systems and internal talent matching to convert to competency-based growth.

NIIT’s Martha Ponge.
NIIT’s Martha Ponge

Martha Ponge, director of national apprenticeships at NIIT, said Texas has embraced collaboration as one of the solutions for its workforce problems. “They knew that one answer wasn’t going to fill all the needs of all the companies and that things needed to be unique enough to serve specific employer needs.”

She said stakeholders need to be in the room together to talk about what strengths they bring, what challenges they’ve seen and what solutions they can provide. “We need to build a workforce that supports our entire community, and we’re going to have to look to unique places that we’ve never looked before.”

Neri-Mejia said it may appear that Applied now has all its ducks in a row, but it needs the help of different groups at different times, including Workforce Solutions, Austin Community College District and NIIT. She said accepting help has been instrumental in launching and developing apprenticeships into a corporate structure that must adapt. “Things need to be changing in order for us to accommodate the new workforce that is coming on board.”

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