COLUMBUS, Ohio (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST) — About half of the jobs that initially come to Intel’s future semiconductor manufacturing factories in New Albany may only require a high school diploma, a sign that a wide swath of Central Ohio’s workforce may find that a job at Intel is within reach.

Another 40% of the jobs directly hired by Intel may require bachelor’s degrees, according to an analysis of the employment distribution at semiconductor manufacturing plants using U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Columbus economist Bill LaFayette, who leads Regionomics LLC, reviewed data for a portion of such a facility’s potential jobs; Columbus Business First expanded that review to match the full 3,000 openings expected at the plants.

Intel is anticipated to employ 3,000 workers directly as a part of its initial $20 billion expansion to Central Ohio, though the project may eventually get much bigger as Intel builds more factories, or “fabs,” here. Those jobs will come with an average salary of $135,000, 2.5 times Columbus’ median household income.

According to BLS data, nearly 50% of the occupations that typically make up U.S. semiconductor manufacturing plants require only high school diplomas. The biggest group of those workers are likely to be electrical and electromechanical assemblers, followed by semiconductor processing technicians, inspectors and testers, as well as assemblers and fabricators.

The 40% of a semiconductor manufacturing plant’s workforce that requires bachelor’s degrees includes industrial engineers, software developers, electronics engineers, computer hardware engineers and electrical engineers.

The remaining 10% or so of the typical semiconductor manufacturing workforce is scattered between 7% of workers with associate’s degrees, and smaller chunks with no formal education, postsecondary non-degree credentials and some college or no degree.

LaFayette said a substantial amount of on-the-job training, provided by Intel or an education provider like Columbus State Community College, will still be needed in order to create a skilled workforce.

“There are lots of occupations in that group of the most prevalent occupations that only require a high school diploma, but lots of training,” LaFayette told us. “I’m willing to bet that if you just squeaked by with your high school diploma, they’re not going to want you. They’re likely to be pickier than people employing the same occupation in other industries.”

LaFayette said semiconductor manufacturing may end up being “more demanding,” but that the Intel workforce is likely to still be inclusive.

“I’d assume an associate’s degree could handle it, in many cases,” LaFayette said. “I think it’s going to be transformational for our economy in the same way that Honda was transformational. We’re going to get concentrations of employment that we haven’t had before and that actually not that many regions in the country have.”

LaFayette said it will be incumbent on Central Ohio education providers and Intel to “reach into the K-12 system and sharpen our emphasis on STEM education” to make sure Central Ohioans are prepared for the jobs.

“The increased demand for these workers, particularly in the top occupations, will increase market wages for these and similar occupations and will make it harder for existing employers to keep these workers,” LaFayette said.

However, the economist also said that Intel is likely to “cast their net pretty wide to staff up” by importing workers from across Ohio, and potentially from other states.

It remains to be seen exactly how the numbers will shake out at Intel specifically.

A spokesperson from Intel did not immediately reply to our request for comment on the analysis.

At Intel’s Jan. 21 announcement in Licking County, however, Keyvan Esfarjani, a senior vice president with the company, said chip plants “require (a) diverse team of highly trained engineers and technicians to operate them.”

He said a wide variety of educational levels would be required, including two-year degrees all the way up to Ph.D.s.

According to a 2021 report from the Semiconductor Industry Association, the industry employs a higher share of workers with college degrees compared to all other industries. But one in five workers in the industry has not attended university.

“This highlights how the semiconductor industry is an increasingly rare example of an industry that provides opportunities across the education and skills spectrum in which jobs exist for workers to earn family-sustaining wages,” the report said.

Columbus State President David Harrison recently told us Intel’s investment in the area could close economic inequality gaps.

“These are inclusive, not exclusive opportunities (at Intel),” Harrison said in the wake of the announcement.

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