Solving the American Tech Talent Shortage

Apprenticeships offer the most promising way for us to foster tech skills among the population, with benefits for job seekers and businesses.

Mike Russo, President & CEO, National Institute for Innovation & Technology (NIIT)

November 16, 2022

4 Min Read
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This month our country marked the 8th annual National Apprenticeship Week (NAW), during which industry, labor, education, and government collaborate to provide career opportunities through Registered Apprenticeships. Now, more than ever, Registered Apprenticeships are important as they are being used to shore up our country’s talent shortage in critical areas of the economy, especially in advanced manufacturing and technology related industries.

Many countries with whom we compete in the global economy have fostered robust apprenticeship programs and as a result have become world leaders in specialties such as semiconductor manufacturing, nanotechnology, and clean energy. Meanwhile, in the US, apprenticeships have largely been viewed as appropriate for respected trades such as carpentry or plumbing, but not suited for much else. That assumption is wrong, and we will have to adjust how we view apprenticeships if we are to arm our workforce with the advanced skills needed to ensure the US remains an economic leader in the 21st century.

Understanding We Have a Problem

The passage of the CHIPS Act in July 2022 marked a significant moment for our country in realizing that American tech talent and manufacturing capacity, specifically in semiconductors, had become an issue of national security. We have fallen from producing 37% of the world’s supply in 1990 to only 12% currently. Other countries have gained market share through ambitious investments, not only in chip manufacturing facilities, but more importantly in talent pipeline development programs to ensure their domestic semiconductor industries have workers to fill jobs and workers are armed with skills to succeed in the modern economy.

The latter is where we are falling short. Although the CHIPS Act is intended to put us on a better course, companies looking to reshore their semiconductor manufacturing to the US are facing immense talent shortages. There is simply not enough talent in the pipeline. This is where apprenticeships offer the greatest potential to enable us to once again lead the world in developing chips.

More Effective Training

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted a long-simmering issue in painful detail: There is a mismatch between what skills the US education system teaches students and what employers need, with two particular pain points being cybersecurity and technology.

Historically, internships have been our primary mechanism of providing students with on-the-job training for cybersecurity and technology. However, these are often short in nature and vary wildly in the level of practical experience they give to students -- and they do not guarantee career placement.

In contrast, Registered Apprenticeship Programs (RAPs) are developed in partnership with industry, enabling curriculum to be aligned with skills actually needed by the employers. Programs can be structured to feed into entry-level positions and to enable “laddering up” with the host company, so apprentices are not only employed in target jobs, but are positioned to advance. Employers benefit by more efficient and structured training and higher attraction and retention rates. Job seekers benefit as they are paid and receive progressive wage increases when participating in multi-level programs.

As the employer designs the curriculum, many apprenticeships also don’t require the customary educational background that other high-skilled jobs demand. This opens the door for a multitude of different candidates from nontraditional backgrounds or at different junctures in their career, which helps to diversify the makeup of who sits in these highly skilled positions.

Benefits for Employers

However, the beauty of apprenticeships is they are not only good for workers -- they present a number of strategic advantages for employers.

Training times can be significantly reduced or planned with better accuracy. Because the employer is involved in the apprenticeship curriculum and with new tools designed to assess skills, determine gaps and target training, employers have to worry less about skill disparities among their entry-level employees. New, innovative, competency-based RAPs enable apprentices to receive training based on their needs and the requirements of the target position, making training much more efficient and valuable to both parties.

Moreover, retention rates among apprentices are typically much higher than employees entering a company through other means. DVRIC, a Philadelphia-based organization specializing in regional economic development, reported that nationally, businesses with an apprenticeship program enjoyed a retention rate of 90% and an ROI of $1.47 for every $1 spent on an apprentice.

Strengthening the Talent Pipeline

The US has proven time and again that we are up to the task of innovating and problem solving to ensure our nation’s success. Rightsizing our lack of semiconductor manufacturing capacity starts with creating a robust talent pipeline and the best way to achieve this is through expanding apprenticeship programs across industries.

NIIT is dedicated to leading the nation's talent development in semiconductors and nanotechnology. Our National Talent Hub is the first of its kind, establishing a national infrastructure to connect individuals to career training and education, while our Registered Apprenticeships connect with job seekers, educational institutions, and companies around the nation to expand the use of apprenticeships in the semiconductor and nanotechnology industries. Through greater adoption of apprenticeships throughout the economy, we will broaden the pool of qualified talent, provide access to quality opportunities to a wider swathe of the workforce and ultimately solve the nation’s tech talent shortfall.

About the Author(s)

Mike Russo

President & CEO, National Institute for Innovation & Technology (NIIT)

Prior to founding NIIT, Mr. Russo was the Vice President of Industry Advancement and Government Programs at SEMI, the industry association representing the global end-to-end electronics industry including designers, chemical and material producers, tool makers and semiconductor chip makers. In that role Mike was responsible for strategy development, programs and government partnerships intended to sustain and grow the semiconductor industry and address the priority issues faced by SEMI’s membership. Other roles at SEMI included Vice President of Global Industry Advocacy as well as Vice President of Talent Advocacy.

Mr. Russo spent nearly a decade leading the corporate Government Affairs office in the U.S. for Global Foundries, the nation’s largest contract semiconductor chip maker, overseeing government relations, regulatory affairs and strategic initiatives including developing the talent pipeline, increasing supply chain innovation and improving supply chain security.

Mr. Russo has also served as a private sector advisor to the U.S. government in the areas of manufacturing and industrial base policy and lead the private sector advisory group for the National Network of Manufacturing Innovation Institute (now Manufacturing USA) under the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP). Mike is a committee member of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine Innovation Policy Forum and the Executive Committee Chairman and founding member of MForesight, the nation’s private sector advisory group on manufacturing.

Mr. Russo has also served as a senior staffer in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. With more than 3 decades experience in manufacturing, Mike has extensive experience in workforce and organizational development, supply chain innovation and security, and infrastructure development, and as the President of the Entregar Consulting Group, provided related solutions to clients and guidance for public-private partnerships.

Prior to his work in Congress, Mr. Russo was an Executive Officer for the nation’s oldest industrial union, was responsible for all operations in the Northeastern United States. An expert in organizational development and effectiveness, Mr. Russo has led initiatives in total workplace redesign and the development of innovative workplace safety cultures, helping to make U.S. manufacturers and businesses globally competitive.

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