Va. launching semiconductor workforce initiative
Virginia Alliance for Semiconductor Technology to create three certificate programs
The commonwealth is launching a Virginia Alliance for Semiconductor Technology to foster a semiconductor industry workforce, funding its establishment with a $3.3 million Growth and Opportunity for Virginia (GO Virginia) grant.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced the initiative Friday. In March, GO Virginia announced the $3.3 million grant to the program, then called the Virginia Nanotechnology Networked Infrastructure.
“Virginia is stepping up to lead the way by investing in key initiatives that will deliver STEM talent to a robust and growing workforce across the commonwealth,” he said in a statement. “Together, our private and public sector partnerships will create new opportunities in semiconductors, microelectronics and nanotechnology to drive critically important economic sectors and technology leadership.”
Virginia Tech will lead VAST, which will bring industry and university partners together to create “workforce development opportunities and expand access to cleanrooms, labs and equipment for training” and research and development, according to a news release. VAST will be headquartered at the Virginia Tech Research Center – Arlington, with other university partners — University of Virginia, George Mason University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Norfolk State University and Northern Virginia Community College — establishing nodes.
“Virginia is a great home for chips, microelectronics and technology,” Virginia Tech Professor Masoud Agah, founding director of VAST, said in a statement. “There is a lot we can do regionally, and together we can do a lot more. This alliance leverages our collective strengths and mobilizes partners throughout the state.”
VAST will create three 10-week Fast Track to Semiconductor Careers certificate programs: Chip Fabrication and Nano Characterization, Semiconductor Packaging and Characterization, and Semiconductor Equipment Maintenance and Repair. The initiative expects to enroll about 300 students per year, with veterans and underserved communities receiving preference, beginning in spring 2024. During the two-year grant period, VAST aims to train 600 adult learners, award 550 certificates and create up to 100 internships.
The alliance will have a cloud-based system to allow schools to share information and online training modules about new equipment and emerging technology with faculty and staff.
Virginia Innovation Partnership Corp. will collaborate with VAST to provide early-stage venture capital investment through its Virginia Venture Partners equity funds. VIPC will also offer grants for entrepreneur-in-residence, faculty R&D and lab equipment through the Commonwealth Commercialization Fund.
A study from George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis estimates that the program will produce more than $65 million in economic activity in five years.
Virginia Tech is no stranger to semiconductor workforce development. The university is one of 21 founding members of the Northeast University Semiconductor Network formed by Idaho-based Micron Technology Inc. and announced in early April. The Micron Foundation and National Science Foundation plan to jointly invest $10 million to fund and develop semiconductor curricula for colleges and universities.
Micron’s 2019 expansion of its manufacturing lab in Manassas was the largest economic development deal in Virginia’s history, with a more than $3 billion investment and more than 1,000 new jobs expected by 2030.
Virginia has been seeking semiconductor manufacturing plants as an economic development strategy, particularly following the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act, which includes $52.7 billion in funding for domestic semiconductor manufacturing and research. U.S. Sen. Mark Warner and state and local development officials met in August 2022 to discuss attracting facilities to four industrial sites in the state.
“Strong university partnerships, strategic programs and an ongoing talent pipeline are critical to be competitive in recruiting in this industry,” Virginia Economic Development Partnership President and CEO Jason Koubi said in a statement. “VAST will be a distinctive and compelling asset to market as we continue to aggressively pursue this dynamic and growing sector.”
Youngkin’s announcement precedes his first international trade trip, beginning Monday, during which he will promote Virginia as “the best place for the semiconductor and microelectronics ecosystem to thrive,” according to a news release. Youngkin plans to meet with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on the trip.