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Mike Ward and America’s Chips: Turning the Tide in the Chip War as America Regains Ground

Semiconductors, or chips, are the backbone of modern technology. They power everything from smartphones and computers to advanced artificial intelligence systems and autonomous vehicles. 


Unfortunately, the United States’ educational system is failing to produce the next generation of this vital sector’s workforce. In the crucial microchip sector alone, experts predict a shortfall of 67,000 jobs by 2030, while the US technology sector as a whole anticipates a deficit of 1.4 million.  


What is so special about a semiconductor?

While conductors (such as metals) allow electricity to flow easily and insulators (such as rubber) block electricity’s flow, semiconductors switch between conducting and insulating with just a little nudge to conduct or insulate electricity under certain conditions. Best of all, they can be controlled, allowing people to manipulate the flow of electric current.


“Semiconductors are at the heart of almost every device we use in our daily lives,” says Mike Ward, CEO of LA Semiconductor and America’s Chips. “They have been the subject of innovation and progress since the first transistor demonstration in 1947.”


What is the chip war?

Recognizing the crucial role these chips play in driving innovation and economic growth, both the United States and China have invested heavily in their respective semiconductor industries. This rivalry — the “chip war” — has significant implications for both countries and the world at large.


Historically, the US has been at the forefront of semiconductor technology, with American companies dominating the market. However, China has made significant strides in recent years to reduce its dependence on foreign chip suppliers and build a strong semiconductor industry. China’s goal is not only to supply its own market but also to become the global leader in the design and supply of the world’s chips.


“The chip war is a battle for control and dominance of advancements in the world’s most prolific technologies,” Ward explains. “Becoming the next global superpower will involve innovation, execution, and protection of know-how related to manufacturing and implementation of crucial technologies, of which semiconductors are critical to any electrical and electronic systems needed to push the envelope.”


The role of education in the chip war

With the United States and China both needing a highly skilled workforce to gain a competitive edge in the semiconductor industry, education has become a crucial battleground. Because education plays a pivotal role in driving technological innovation, the nation that can harness the power of education most effectively will likely emerge as the dominant force in the semiconductor industry.


In the global race for educational supremacy, the United States is falling behind China. While the US education system has long been considered a pillar of excellence, recent trends and statistics indicate a concerning decline.


In international assessments such as the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), China has steadily outperformed the United States. The most recent US PISA scores plummeted by 13 points to an all-time low.


Additionally, China places a strong emphasis on STEM education, recognizing its pivotal role in an increasingly technology-driven world. By fostering an environment that encourages students to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, China has successfully produced a skilled workforce capable of driving technological advancements. 


Conversely, the US education system has often fallen short in catering to STEM education, resulting in a lack of graduates equipped with the necessary skills to meet industry demands. Experts predict that Chinese universities will provide that nation with nearly double the STEM Ph. D.s that US institutions can offer by 2025.


“It has been contemplated by officials in our industry that US chip executives could be blind-sided by the output of an education system with less focus and incentives for excelling in STEM subjects and producing engineering-minded graduates, when comparing US institutions to those of other powerful countries,” warns Ward. “A work shortage has currently been identified, and it may drastically impact our ability to lead and grow. We must start focusing on workforce development, and begin expanding infrastructure to pull our future leaders into technology now.”


America’s Chips help the education system gain ground in the chip war

The semiconductor industry in the United States just received a 52-billion-dollar investment from the federal government. As the sole semiconductor pure-play foundry that is 100% US-owned and operated, Ward and his team are composing collaborative Chips Act proposals that include 20 or more partners in forming a collective upside benefit for those companies truly focused on solutions to potential issues that would impact the delivery of Rad-Hard, High-Temp, or other harsh environment chips that the US DoD will rely on for the next 20-30 years of uninterrupted, dedicated, on-shore supply.


Ward and his team, as a critical piece of CHIPS ACT and other proposals, would allocate resources to an alliance called America’s Chips. This unique collaboration between the tech sector and a cutting-edge online educational gaming platform, Heroic Game Day, intends to turn the tide by leveraging game-based learning to create a workforce that will lead the world.


“The government’s realization that we need to build and expand a workforce with both quality and quantity, is a good first step to solving the problem,” says Ward. “There is now significant funding in the Chips for America Act to prime that pump. We have a solution, and we can scale it to every K-6 student in America, move into middle and high school, and at the same time connect and upskill their parents. We see this as a perfect strategy to, in some sense, play catch-up and reclaim key components of global leadership, anchored in the education systems in America.”


Heroic Game Day debuted its online gamification platform with school districts in Ohio, with over 10,000 US students playing today, and is currently expanding to other states to engage millions of students. Heroic Game Day utilizes engaging gamification to bridge the gap between students’ digital worlds and the real-world tech sector (i.e., how to build a computer chip).


This platform starts early, providing K-6 students with the practical skills necessary to build a strong pipeline of future workers, and the early results are encouraging. According to the website, students who play the game 30 minutes a day develop twenty soft skills essential in today’s workforce and score proficient in state reading and math state tests.


Students are also gaining the knowledge necessary to assist the United States in winning the chip war. “While most of us take semiconductors for granted, first graders who participate in the game’s technology section learn how to create them,” says Ward. “Similar to Minecraft, they begin by undertaking a quest to mine raw materials, return to the factory to process materials such as sand, and create silicon starting material. Making these connections as early as first grade will prepare them to understand and put into context, basic process steps that most of us current semiconductor technologists, did not learn until our college years. Contextual learning and practice make an enormous difference in being prepared for the world. The chip war long game will not be won in today’s boardrooms but in America’s classrooms.”

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