Intel facing worker shortage for German chip plant

Chip giant says it's still in the 'planning and design phase'

Intel is facing a shortage of skilled staff for its planned chip factory in Germany, according to reports, highlighting that rebuilding the semiconductor industry in Europe and elsewhere may not be straightforward.

The Santa Clara chipmaker signed an agreement with the German government back in June that will see it pick up €10 billion ($10.9 billion) in subsidies to build a wafer fabrication facility at Magdeburg in the state of Saxony-Anhalt.

At the time, CEO Pat Gelsinger labelled the facility "Silicon Junction," and said it was a critical part of the company's strategy for future growth, and that he expected to start production in four to five years.

But according to the Wall Street Journal, while Intel needs about 3,000 people to staff the semiconductor factory, the local apprentice program for technicians is currently training just two. The report also points to "Byzantine bureaucracy" and high energy prices as other factors that are plaguing Intel’s efforts to get the plant built and operational.

The WSJ states that a class of 20 apprentices is set to begin a training program next August, with the intention of eventually increasing that number 10-fold. However, the apprenticeships are expected to last for three years, casting doubt over any plans to start production as early as 2027.

Intel is also intending to send local trainees to a factory it operates in Ireland – likely the manufacturing plant in Leixlip, near Dublin – for the final year of their apprenticeship program, as there are no suitable local facilities in Magdeburg.

In response to the claims, an Intel spokesperson told us: “We are currently in the planning and design phase of the Magdeburg fabrication plant but we have already seen strong interest in the first 30 job roles, receiving nearly 3,000 applications. We are also building an apprenticeship program at the Magdeburg site, which is planned to start next year with the aim to build the next generation of talent in the region.”

The chipmaker also announced this week it was working with community colleges in Ohio in order to address the skills gap for another chip factory it is building in that US state. The one-year semiconductor certificate program includes Introduction to Manufacturing, Semiconductor 101 and Vacuum Systems in order to train technicians to make chips.

But it isn't just Intel that is facing this problem. Earlier this year, it was reported that Taiwanese semiconductor manufacturing giant TSMC was delaying the start of production at its Arizona fabrication plant, currently under construction, claiming it was unable to find enough skilled workers to complete the facility.

To fill the gap, TSMC was said to be resorting to sending over technicians from Taiwan to help train up local workers. This is likely to put the opening of its US foundry back a year behind the planned schedule.

Meanwhile, China is struggling to raise the required funding to meet its target of ¥300 billion ($41 billion) to support its own semiconductor industry.

According to the Financial Times, Beijing's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has run into difficulty with the planned third round of investment for the China Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund, also known as the Big Fund. The difficult current economic climate is being blamed.

However, in other chip news, it was reported that the US may indefinitely extend a temporary waiver granted to South Korean chipmakers Samsung and SK Hynix on licenses to bring American chipmaking equipment into China.

Citing Korea's Yonhap news agency, Reuters said the US Department of Commerce is expected to announce that the year-long waiver granted to the two companies will be extended. Both have factories in China producing memory chips. ®

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