Source: The Wall Street Journal
Globalfoundries is seeking more applicants with skills in the STEM fields, and it has embarked on a crash program to train future workers. Shown, a chip wafer at the company’s plant in Malta, N.Y. Christian Science Monitor/Getty
MALTA, N.Y.—New York state got an influx of high-tech jobs five years ago when its offer of more than $1 billion of incentives, including cash and tax breaks, persuaded Globalfoundries Inc. to set up a semiconductor plant near Saratoga Lake in this town 25 miles north of Albany.
There has been one hitch: Because it is hard to find enough people with the right technical skills around here, about half of the 2,200 jobs at the plant were filled by people brought in from outside New York, and 11% are foreigners.
In terms of basic math and science skills, “we’re really floundering here in the U.S.,” Mike Russo, Globalfoundries’ director of government relations, said in an interview.
The company has embarked on a crash program with nearby school districts, the State University of New York and other partners to train future workers.
Globalfoundries says average annual base salaries at the plant range from $30,000 for production operators to $90,000 for engineers.
The shortage of highly skilled factory workers in Malta comes amid growing worries about a nationwide failure to produce enough strong graduates in science, technology, engineering and math, the so-called STEM fields.
Bayer Corp., the U.S. arm of the German chemical and pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG, is due to release a report this week showing that half of the recruiters from large U.S. companies surveyed couldn’t find enough job candidates with four-year STEM degrees in a timely manner; some said that had led to more recruitment of foreigners.
The shortages were most acute in engineering and computer-related fields, the recruiters said. The survey, completed in August, included 150 recruiters from 117 companies, all on the Fortune 1000 list of large companies.
About two-thirds of the recruiters surveyed said their companies were creating more STEM positions than other types of jobs.
In a recent survey of Indiana manufacturers commissioned by Katz, Sapper & Miller, an Indianapolis-based accounting firm, 24% of the respondents reported “serious deficiencies” in math skills among their current workforces. Among respondents, 36% reported a serious shortage of skilled production workers.
Earlier this month, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released a study showing that Americans aged 16 to 65 scored below international averages in tests for literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills. In a test of numeracy, the U.S. ranked 21 out of the 23 countries included.
Bayer is using more internships and scholarships in an effort to deal with what it sees as a shortage of engineering expertise, said Rebecca Lucore, chief of staff for the company’s U.S. chemicals business. Even for sales and marketing jobs, Bayer generally prefers candidates with STEM degrees.
At Bayer’s chemical manufacturing facilities in Baytown, Texas, there is a need for more people with two-year degrees in process engineering.
“There are a lot of good jobs out there that don’t require a four-year degree, just two,” Ms. Lucore said.
Globalfoundries, based in Milpitas, Calif., is owned by an Abu Dhabi government investment company and includes semiconductor manufacturing operations formerly owned by Advanced Micro Devices Inc.
The company, which also makes semiconductors in Singapore and Germany, chose the Malta area, near the town of Saratoga Springs, for its North American plant partly because of the proximity to schools including Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University at Albany.
But the Saratoga Springs area is better-known for horse racing and tourism than for cutting-edge manufacturing skills. Globalfoundries has struggled to find technicians with two-year degrees in electronics, engineering or other areas related to math and science.
It has joined other manufacturers in calling for changes in U.S. immigration laws to make it easier to hire foreigners, particularly when they graduate from U.S. universities.
Globalfoundries also is working with U.S. educators, notably the State University of New York, which encompasses 463,000 students on 63 campuses. In an interview, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher said her institution should get a B or B minus for its performance so far in preparing students for advanced manufacturing jobs.
“We know the problem and we are throwing a lot of solutions at it,” she said, “but it takes a while to get a return.”
One initiative is a mentoring program, funded by a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation, that pairs graduate students and postdoctoral fellows with middle schoolers interested in STEM careers. Many middle schoolers imagine that scientists are old men, with wild, Einstein-like hair, and “a little scary,” Ms. Zimpher said. The mentors show them that scientists and mathematicians can be cool young people, she said.