When GlobalFoundries opened Fab 8 in 2012, many of its employees were brought in from overseas. The company needed the experienced manpower to get it up and running. These days, about half the workforce is from abroad, and the firm expects about half the new hires will be from overseas as well. It would like to hire more domestic workers, in part, so the company does not have to pay to relocate them, but it’s still tough to find people with the necessary skills here.
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The facility is basically manned by two groups of workers, engineers and technicians. Engineers are typically graduates of four-year colleges. They experiment with new technologies and run the manufacturing process. Technicians are the Mr. Fix-Its, maintaining the multimillion dollar machines that make the chips, and troubleshooting when the process breaks down. They will typically have an associate’s degree, and right now, GlobalFoundries is having trouble finding enough of them.
“We are seeing a big gap in our technicians,” said Don Garrison, technical training manager. “We’re seeing a gap in hands on people who can come in and get the equipment up and running.”
Keeping the machines working is important. The facility is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Technicians and some engineers will work 12-hour shifts that alternate three days on, four days off, four days on, three days off.
“Every minute that we’re not running product is profit lost to the company,” said Garrison.
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To develop a greater pool of technicians, the firm works closely with New York’s 30 community colleges, encouraging them to revamp their curriculums so graduates are better prepared for work in advanced manufacturing. For example, Hudson Valley Community College has a simulated trainer next door to Fab 8’s training facility and teaches the mechanical and electrical skills a new employee would need.
GlobalFoundries also pitches high schools on reintroducing the shop classes needed to improve hands-on skills, and pitches students on the benefits of working in advanced manufacturing.
“Basically what we let them know is that its a very lucrative industry to go into,” said Garrison. “By focusing them on the skills that we need, they could actually be starting off at anywhere around $22 an hour or up.”
It takes over 1,000 steps to make a chip for GlobalFoundries’ 150 clients. In a clean room the size of six football fields, engineers and technicians will oversee the process, which takes three months to complete. In the end 300-millimeter (12-inch) silicon wafers yield anywhere from 500 to 800 computer chips that will mostly be used in mobile applications.
The production process is broken down into six major modules including thin films, etch, diffusion and lithography. Technicians are tested to see what skills they need training in and then are assigned to different modules depending on their skills.