AUSTIN, Texas — The chip shortage has impacted manufacturing and production at almost every level. Chips, also known as semiconductors, are necessary for things like phones and cars to operate. 

It’s an issue that the Biden administration is trying to tackle. According to the Associated Press, the “House of Representatives passed a bill in early February that could pump $52 billion and subsidies to the semiconductor industry to help boost U.S. production.”

Central Texas is a big player in the global supply chain of semiconductors. A program at Austin Community College (ACC) is looking to get students into the manufacturing world. Some of their graduates choose to work for companies like Samsung, which is building a massive chip plant in Taylor.

Clayton Robinson is a student at ACC. He’s worked in the industry for years, but is getting his associate's degree in advanced manufacturing to level up.

“I came here to get my education and become a technician or higher up on the ladder,” Robinson said. “You want to go to work for something you like to do.”

ACC offers a variety of manufacturing programs. The associate degree is a two-year, full-time program. There's also a six-to-eight-week certified production technician program, which gives students exposure to the industry. This fall, ACC is launching a four-year bachelor's degree of applied technology in manufacturing, engineering, and technology.

Despite a variety of options like this, there are still more jobs available in Central Texas than people who are willing and trained to do them.

“There are challenges in the industry, and one of them is finding qualified workers and making sure that they have the people that are skilled that they can run the factories,” said Ed Latson, the executive director of the Austin Regional Manufacturers Association (ARMA).

ARMA works to strengthen the manufacturing community in Central Texas. Latson said the February freeze of 2021 was "one of the biggest business disasters we've had in the region."

"They had over a billion dollars' worth of loss and they're unlike other businesses," Latson said. "They're making their products in very clean environments. Any kind of contamination makes the product unusable. So when Austin Energy had to shut down power to these plants, it was flooded with contamination, got on their products that were being made, got into their equipment and machinery and just really wreaked havoc. We had to scrap all that product. They had to clean all the machines [and] some of them had to be scrapped as well. And it took a lot of time to get production back online. Because of that, customers, especially automotive, didn't have parts to make their products. We saw that exacerbate some of the automobile shortages."

Manufacturing has grown in Central Texas over the last five to six years, according to Latson.

"We have this incredibly expanding and strong semiconductor industry. You have a new automotive industry. We're at the center of electric vehicles now, with Tesla being headquartered here. And then you have a lot of exciting things happening in biopharmaceutical and energy development," Latson said. "So when I look at Austin and Central Texas, I really see the building blocks of the future and the technology that's driving global advancement being made right here."

Latson works closely with Dr. Laura Marmolejo, who heads the advanced manufacturing program at ACC. She said chip-making is a “custom industry.”

“You have to learn the lingo, the whole process. It’s very new,” she said. “The more you have people entering, the faster they can accelerate their processes.” 

Dr. Marmolejo is reaching out to middle- and high-schoolers to get them excited about manufacturing before they enter the job market or choose a college major.

"There’s lots of innovative thinking going on right now of how to get that pipeline widened and more people in there," she said.

Once students graduate from ACC and start working, they could be helping the global supply chain of semiconductors. Chips made in Texas are sent all over the world.

"It's a very connected industry,” said Dr. Marmolejo.

She said entry-level positions might be “comparable,” but if you work your way up, you can make a lot of money.

“It’s a great way for people to have a good job so that they don’t have to struggle,” Dr. Marmolejo said. “To me, that’s the value for the student. It’s like, get a job in an area that you can survive comfortably, and that’s super important these days.”

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