Purdue Gives Professionals an Edge With the New Online MS in Semiconductors

A man in safety glasses, mask, and gloves holds a chip in front of him. The chip is in clear focus while his face is slightly blurred.

The global semiconductor industry has been soaring, poised to become a $1 trillion industry by the end of the decade. However, the booming growth underscores a critical global industry obstacle: the lack of a specialized workforce. 

The U.S. semiconductor engineering workforce already faces challenges. Despite recent growth in job opportunities, hiring skilled professionals has been difficult, taking employers longer to find the right professionals and fill job openings.  A 2022 survey conducted by professional services network KPMG highlighted that 67% of semiconductor industry leaders name talent development and retention as one of the top strategic priorities for the industry. 

Beyond the struggle to find and retain semiconductor professionals, the need for comprehensive education, training, and professional development has become paramount to the industry’s future. 

Investments Address the Talent Gap 

With a goal to develop a specialized workforce for the semiconductor industry, Purdue University set out to create an Online Interdisciplinary Master of Science in Engineering, Major in Microelectronics and Semiconductors to upskill current working professionals. 

“We knew challenges with the semiconductor industry workforce would be a reality, and we couldn’t afford to wait and then decide our strategy,” said Vijay Raghunathan, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Vice President for Global Partnerships and Programs. Purdue’s leadership in semiconductor workforce development started before the U.S. CHIPS and Science ACT in 2022, he noted.

The CHIPS and Science Act allocated nearly $50 billion of domestic investments for efforts that include workforce development. Educational initiatives, including advanced education for professional engineers, are essential to these efforts. 

Raghunathan added that Purdue had already invested $100 million to improve its existing programs, resources, and facilities, positioning the university ahead of its peers  in training engineers for the semiconductor industry. “Because we invested earlier on, it made it clear that for a university, our focus was the workforce and the R&D initiatives,” he said. 

The program also relies on an advisory board of more than 30 semiconductor industry leaders, including representatives of IBM, Micron, Texas Instruments, and Intel. “Our industry partnerships really set us apart,” he said. 

Semiconductor Industry Demands Diverse Skills

The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) estimates the federal government investment will create 115,000 industry jobs by 2030, a total that would still leave a gap of about 67,000 positions unfilled. “We estimate that approximately 39% of the gap (26,400 jobs) will be in technician occupations, 41% (27,300 jobs) in engineering occupations, and 20% (13,400 jobs) in computer science,” the SIA report shows. The engineering occupations gap includes “45% (12,300 jobs) at the master’s level and 19% (5,100 jobs) at the PhD level.”

To work as semiconductor engineers, professionals must acquire advanced knowledge and skills in specific areas, such as semiconductor materials, advanced semiconductor device design and modeling, integrated circuit and system design, and advanced packaging and heterogeneous integration. Most coursework related to semiconductor specialization is found at the graduate level. (Sources: NCES, GovTech.com). 

Wyatt DuVall, Principle Design Engineer at ASML and a graduate student at Purdue’s MSE-MS, said, “There is a large national push to increase our domestic semiconductor talent pool, and I find it quite motivating to be a part of that.” He sees the program as a good opportunity to develop skills in the semiconductor field, improving his “tool kit at work.”

Raghunathan explained that although topics related to semiconductors are diffused throughout the different engineering disciplines, Purdue’s graduate program offers a deep dive into more specific topics and skills. “What we designed is a curriculum that is almost completely flexible and can be customized to a specific interest of a student,” he said. 

Purdue’s Advantages

Flexibility and diverse coursework encourage engineering professionals to invest in an advanced degree. Purdue’s fully online master’s program lets professionals continue to work while taking advantage of a diverse interdisciplinary curriculum designed for the semiconductor industry — ranging from chip fabrication to advanced packaging and supply chain management. 

“The program is generally very flexible, which has been fantastic,” DuVall said. “Without that level of flexibility, I would have struggled greatly. But, as it is, it’s manageable to cruise through one course per semester.”

The program’s coursework allows students to engage virtually in the same rigorous academic environment as the students on campus. For example, students can access virtual labs and digital twin simulation tools, including Purdue’s nanoHub and vFabLab, a virtual cleanroom environment for semiconductor manufacturing, Raghunathan said. 

Along with the technical aspects of semiconductor education, the interdisciplinary master’s program offers complementary courses related to the non-technical aspects of the semiconductor business, such as graduate-level certificates in entrepreneurship and supply chain management. 

Students can augment their skills while acquiring new abilities to stay competitive in the job market. “Returning to school has definitely provided a shift in how I think about problems at work,” DuVall said.

At Purdue, the university’s initiatives and industry partnerships coupled with the rigorous academic environment set the program apart, giving students an edge in the semiconductor workforce. “We really want our students to know they can have a long, rewarding career in the semiconductor industry,” Raghunathan said.