Employment of semiconductor processors is projected to decline between 2004 and 2014. The two main reasons for this are increasing automation and the construction of many newer fabs in other countries. Semiconductor manufacturers are shifting production to larger 12” wafers, which produce twice as many chips as fabs making 8” wafers. Plants that make 12” wafers are more automated, allowing them to sharply increase production with the same number of workers. Additionally, a number of domestic companies are building more fabs overseas, where costs are lower. Imports of semiconductors from non-U.S. companies also are growing and may continue to increase throughout the decade. In spite of the decline in employment, some jobs will open up due to the need to replace workers who leave the occupation.
Despite the expected decline in employment of semiconductor processors, the demand for semiconductor chips remains very high stemming from the many existing and future applications for semiconductors in computers, appliances, machinery, biotechnology, vehicles, cell phones and other telecommunications devices, and other equipment. Moreover, the advent of the new 64-bit microchip and “dual-core” chips is expected to provide the power of computer servers or workstations, onto desktop computers and open up a wealth of new applications, particularly in medical devices.
Industry development of semiconductors made from better materials means that semiconductors will become even smaller, more powerful, and more durable. For example, the industry has begun producing a new generation of microchips made with copper rather than aluminum wires, which will better conduct electricity. Also, technology now exists to make chips for wireless connections to the Internet possible over a range of several miles, while another company will soon be producing chips that will save massive amounts of energy in many kinds of electric products.
Job prospects will be best for people with postsecondary education in electronics or semiconductor technology.