In a hotel ballroom, dozens of women, and a few men, listened raptly as Ellie Yieh offered tips on career success.
“This is a very tough industry for women,” she said. “But it’s very important for you to keep your eye on the ball.”
Then she repeated some advice she credited to her husband: “Your job is not to have people like you,” he’d told her. “Your job it to drive the performance of the team.”
As the $450 billion semiconductor industry faces a range of challenges — from tariff threats to technology hurdles — it’s also working hard to be more inclusive and to encourage young people to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“Our member companies have tens of thousands of unfilled positions around the world today,” said David Anderson, president of SEMI Americas, the industry trade group that is holding its Advanced Semiconductor Manufacturing Conference this week in Saratoga Springs.
The Women in Semiconductors program preceded the the main event Monday, and has grown in popularity in the three years it has been held. Attendance tripled to 150 this year from 50 in the first year.
Yieh, a corporate vice president at Applied Materials, delivered the keynote address.
Women now make up 56 percent of university enrollment, but only 18 percent of those majoring in STEM fields.
“The pipeline is narrowed there,” said Anderson.
ASMC 2019, as the conference is called, is in its 30th year. The last nine have been held in Saratoga Springs. The Women in Semiconductors event is a draw, as is the area.
“People like the town,” Anderson said.
The semiconductor industry has grown into a major presence locally, with such institutions as SUNY Polytechnic Institute, the University at Albany, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, all producing graduates in related fields.
The arrival of GlobalFoundries in 2010 offered many of those graduates an opportunity to stay local, as it created thousands of new jobs for scientists and technicians.
And demand for the microprocessors, or chips, that GlobalFoundries and companies such as Texas Instruments and Intel produce continues to grow.
Industries from agriculture to pharmaceuticals depend on sensors and microprocessors, said Anderson.
“The next big thing is really everything,” he added. “Semiconductors have become ubiquitous.”
Concerns that the United States might get into a trade war do cause some concerns. Anderson said tariffs could cost the American semiconductor industry $700 million a year.
“As an industry we’re about 80 percent exports from the U.S.,” Anderson said. “We’re heavily impacted by trade.”
And the industry continues to pursue cutting-edge technologies.
It’s exploring new materials with which to make semiconductors. Late last year SUNY Polytechnic Institute and Applied Materials announced a seven-year, $880 million research program at SUNY’s Albany campus.
And quantum computing, which replaces the ones and zeroes of computing with transistors that “can be effectively a 1, or 0, or any state in between,” said Anderson, promises a whole new generation of computing power. Once they’re perfected, “the computing power will be much greater than today.”
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