Education and Training: High school plus two years of training
Salary: Median—$13.85 per hour
Employment Outlook: Poor
Definition and Nature of the Work
Semiconductor processors, sometimes known as integrated circuit technicians, are production workers who manufacture semiconductors. Semiconductors (also known as integrated circuits, computer chips, and microchips) are tiny electronic systems produced on minute slices of silicon. Semiconductors are used in computers, DVD players, cell phones, household appliances, and video games, along with many other products.
Manufacturing computer chips is a difficult and complex process. Semiconductor processors usually specialize in one part of the larger manufacturing process. To manufacture computer chips, first semiconductor disks, or wafers, of varying sizes are manufactured. The circuitry of the microchips is layered on the wafers. When the circuitry is completed, each wafer is cut into many individual chips.
Semiconductor processors make wafers by imprinting the microscopic patterns of the circuitry on the wafers. They then etch out the patterns with acids and fill in the etched patterns with metals that conduct electricity. After giving the wafer a chemical bath, the semiconductor processor applies another layer of microscopic circuitry to the wafer. Wafers usually have from eight to twenty layers of circuitry.
The manufacture of computer chips takes place in "cleanrooms"—production areas that are free of airborne matter, which could damage the chips. All semiconductor processors working in cleanrooms wear special lightweight garments that fit over their clothing to prevent lint and other particles from contaminating semiconductor processing worksites.
Education and Training Requirements
The education and training necessary for a semiconductor processor varies somewhat depending on the specific position. Some routine technical jobs require only a high school diploma along with the training provided on the job. However, most employers prefer to hire graduates of specialized two-year training programs, which are offered by community colleges and technical schools.
Getting the Job
Semiconductor processors are often hired after completing a technical program. Students in their last semester at a community college or technical school should check with their placement offices for job openings. Newspaper classifieds, job banks on the Internet, and state employment agencies are good resources. You can also apply directly to a microchip manufacturer for an entry-level position.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
With additional training and experience, semiconductor processors can advance from one area of the process to a more demanding one. If they further their education, they can become supervisors or circuit designers.
Employment of semiconductor processors is projected to decline between 2004 and 2014. The computer chip fabrication process is becoming more automated, requiring fewer workers. In addition many newer manufacturing facilities are being constructed in other countries.
Semiconductor processors work in clean, well-lighted, dust-free environments. They use highly specialized equipment but sometimes work with potentially dangerous acids and other chemicals.
Where to Go for More Information
Electronic Industries Association
2500 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22201
Electronics Technicians Association International
5 Depot St.
Greencastle, IN 46135
Maricopa Advanced Technology Education Center
2323 W. 14th St., Ste. 540
Tempe, AZ 85281
Earnings and Benefits
Salaries for semiconductor processors vary somewhat depending on their education and training and the difficulty of the tasks performed. The median wage of electronic semiconductor processors was $13.85 in 2004. Full-time semiconductor processors usually receive standard benefits, including health insurance, paid holidays and vacations, and retirement plans.