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National effort to match tech jobs with workers starts in Albany

Albany Business Review By Sam Raudins

June 22, 2023

The semiconductor industry could bring thousands of jobs to upstate New York over the next decade and a national nonprofit is already working to help fill those positions.

The National Institute for Innovation and Technology debuted its new system for matching potential employees with jobs last week in the Capital Region.

It's the first time the system has been rolled out anywhere in the country. It matches employees and their skills with semiconductor-related job openings and the competencies they require.

"There's been huge investments in the new Tech Valley, if you will, in upstate New York, in the last few years, and there's going to be a need," said Mike Russo, president and CEO of NIIT. The nonprofit organization works with the federal government to create talent pipelines for companies like chip manufacturers.

Russo experienced the hiring challenges in the industry firsthand during his time at GlobalFoundries from 2009 to 2018. That experience, paired with the increasing amount of tech/advanced manufacturing development in the state, made the NIIT choose New York first.

Micron's planned $100 billion project near Syracuse is expected to create 9,000 jobs. GlobalFoundries has been planning a second factory in Malta. And Wolfspeed, which has a factory near Utica, will continue hiring.

The Albany region is also vying for the National Semiconductor Technology Center — the semiconductor research and development headquarters for the $11 billion the CHIPS Act allocated to the U.S. Department of Commerce for advancement in that area — which could bring another 1,000 positions.

GlobalFoundries, Wolfspeed and NY CREATES, the state-backed organization that manages the Albany Nanotech Complex, have registered apprenticeship programs with NIIT, and Micron's Idaho factory is already in the system as well.

But in hiring for Micron's New York plant, the company is going to need to be creative.

"I will tell you, traditional talent acquisition approaches don't cut it, they're not going to get them where they need to be," Russo said.

Russo said the NIIT has created a national database in partnership with the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Labor to lay out the competencies and skills needed for jobs in tech and advanced manufacturing across the country. Its web-based portal creates a standardized set of skills that can be transferred between companies and recognizes credit-bearing and non-credit bearing courses, credentials and apprenticeships and the competencies a worker develops after those are completed.

"That allows you to map careers. 'I'm an 82% match for this job at GlobalFoundries. But I don't have the ones that are really important at that proficiency level. I need improve that,'" Russo said. "I can raise my hand in the system [and] say, 'I'm interested in learn-and-earn. Are there registered apprenticeship programs available where I can actually go to work and get paid and learn?'"

GlobalFoundries just graduated its first class from its registered apprenticeship program. Applied Materials, which makes equipment for manufacturing computer chips, and Plug Power will expand their programs in association with NIIT to capture a larger talent pool.

One of the long-term keys to filing these positions and creating a workforce is engaging with populations that may not know there's opportunity for them in these projects, and one of those groups is students.

The local piece of that effort is what the NIIT calls "opportunity hubs," which are programs that connect K-12 students with these companies and allows them to map out a potential career. As part of the hub, the NIIT asses the school districts' curriculum and see if they have adequate experiential learning opportunities early on.

For example, Capital Region BOCES students who have indicated an interest in tech/advanced manufacturing will be introduced to the system at the start of the next academic year.

"Next fall, part of the onboarding will be they will be establishing a profile as part of the program in the talent hub. They will be onboarded, shown how to use it, how to map careers and they have that for life and it doesn't cost anything," Russo said.

An opportunity hub will be able to connect students in Syracuse with Micron as well.

"We have the ability for the whole Syracuse City School District [to] put all the kids into the hub and start to get them interested, engaged and on the right pathway into a single system to funnel right into Micron out there," he said.

That system will eventually extend beyond K-12 schools and be part of career and technical education centers and colleges/community colleges. It will also be introduced nationwide.

With the NIIT database, interested employees from across the country can also be matched with these jobs, Russo said.

"Instead of GlobalFoundries talent acquisition getting 5,000 resumes to sift through, they will know when someone is really aligned and to what degree and it really helps to make that connection," Russo said. "The only way to meet the numbers in the Capital Region and throughout the country is to expand the pipeline."

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