There are currently about 32,000 semiconductor processors working in the United States. Job growth statistics indicate that over the next ten years the industry will fall into a rapid decline at a rate of 32%. Applicants with an associate degree and work-related high tech manufacturing experience will be the first to be hired. This is a trade in which learned skills are transferrable to a number of other types of work.
Semiconductors behave differently under different conditions. In some cases, they behave as electrical conductors; in other situations, they behave as electrical insulators. Silicon is one component a semiconductor processor works with to produce integrated circuits, or microchips. Microchips contain a number of electronic elements. Many types of products use microchips, including cell phones, computers, GPS devices, and more. Semiconductor processors are called process technicians and are responsible for monitoring the manufacture of microchips.
Initially, silicon cylinders, or ingots, are made and sliced into narrow sections. Computer automatic robots polish the sections and impress microscopic circuitry patterns with photolithography. Patterns are etched with acids and then replaced with aluminum or copper conductors. The thin slices are smoothed in a chemical bath. The next pattern is then imprinted on a new layer, following the same procedure. Some chips contain as many as 20 layers of circuitry. When all layers have been imprinted, the slices or layers, are cut into separate chips, enclosed in casing, and shipped.
Semiconductor processors analyze and address production problems, maintain equipment, and make repairs as necessary. Completed chips must be tested for proper function, and diagnostics are regularly run to keep all machinery working at top form.
The work environment for semiconductor processors must be absolutely clean and well lit. Due to the nature of the process, no lint, debris, or fumes can be present. Processors who work in these clean rooms are required to wear lightweight jumpsuits called bunny suits to prevent contaminants on clothing from entering the air. New hires can take as long as 45 minutes to correctly don the bunny suit, although more experienced workers do so much more quickly. Clean rooms are kept intentionally very calm. Movement is slow and kept to a minimum to avoid stirring up air and contaminants. Climate control is very important inside the clean room. Workers must don a new bunny suit each time they enter the clean room and go through decontamination.
Technicians spend most of their shift on their feet as they move from area to area to monitor production. Semiconductor manufacturing plants operate around the clock. Three 8-hour shifts run back to back. Some plants offer 2 12-hour shifts instead. Night and weekend work is to be expected.
Most semiconductor processors have earned associate degrees or technical school certificates and have strong backgrounds in math and science. Employers are especially impressed with job applicants who have experience with highly automated systems, electromechanical automation, and electronics. Keeping technician and operator skills current is essential; most employers provide frequent on-the-job seminars or training sessions.
Advancement occurs as workers master machinery and other tasks. After a few years of consistent work, most entry-level operators and technicians advance to an intermediate level with more responsibility and higher pay. Within a decade, technicians are advanced to a senior level and become team leaders, working directly with engineers.
The median annual salary of semiconductor processors is around $32,000. Those in the top 10% earn more than $50,000.