Semiconductor processors oversee the manufacturing of electronic semiconductors, which are commonly known as integrated circuits or microchips. These microchips are found in all electronic devices—including cell phones, cars, and laptops—and are an important part of modern life.

Duties

Semiconductor processors typically do the following:

  • Look over work orders, instructions, and processing charts to determine a work schedule
  • Monitor machines that slice silicon crystals into wafers for processing
  • Use robots to clean and polish the silicon wafers
  • Load wafers into the equipment that creates patterns and forms the electronic circuitry
  • Set and adjust controls to regulate the manufacturing equipment’s power level, temperature, and other process parameters
  • Adjust the process equipment and repair as needed during the manufacturing process
  • Test completed microchips to ensure they work properly
  • Review the manufacturing process and suggest improvements

Semiconductor processors, also known as process technicians, are largely responsible for quality control in the manufacturing process. They check equipment regularly for problems and test completed chips to make sure they work properly. If a problem with a chip does arise, they determine if it is due to contamination of that particular wafer or if it was caused by a flaw in the manufacturing process.

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Work Environment

Semiconductor processors held about 21,300 jobs in 2012. About 90 percent worked in the semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing industry.

Microchips must be kept completely clean and free of impurities because the microchips are so small that they can be damaged by a particle of dust. Therefore, semiconductor processors work in clean rooms that are filtered to have as little as one particle of dust in a cubic foot of air.

In addition, they wear special lightweight garments, called “bunny suits,” over their clothes to keep lint or other particles from contaminating the clean room. Managers closely monitor workers going into and out of the clean room, and workers must put on a new bunny suit each time they go in.

The work pace in clean rooms is deliberately slow. Because the machinery sets the operators’ rate of work, workers keep a relaxed pace. Limiting movement in the clean room is important to keep the air as dust-free as possible.

The temperature in the clean rooms is generally comfortable for workers. Although bunny suits cover almost the entire body, the lightweight fabric keeps the temperature inside fairly comfortable.

Work Schedules

Most employees work full time. Because semiconductor factories, also known as fabricating plants, run around the clock, night and weekend work is common for these workers. Although some plants schedule workers for the standard 40-hour week (8-hour shifts, 5 days a week), others schedule workers in 12-hour shifts.

Education and Training

Many employers prefer that semiconductor processors have an associate’s degree in a field such as microelectronics.

Education

Many semiconductor processors have an associate’s degree in a field such as microelectronics. These programs are usually offered at community colleges. Students should take science and engineering courses, such as chemistry, physics, and classes in electronic circuits.

There is an emerging trend of employers preferring semiconductor processors to have a bachelor’s degree in engineering or a physical science because of the increasing complexity of the manufacturing plants.

Training

New semiconductor processors need on-the-job training from 1 month to 1 year. During this training, a processor learns how to operate equipment and test new chips. Manufacturing microchips is a complex process, and it takes months of supervised work to become fully proficient.

Workers with more education may have learned some techniques in school and need less on-the-job training. Because the technology used in manufacturing microchips is always evolving, processors must continue to be trained on new techniques and methods throughout their careers.

Personality and Interests

Semiconductor processors typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a semiconductor processor, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Semiconductor processors should also possess the following specific qualities:

Communication skills. Semiconductor processors must clearly communicate their recommendations on how to improve the manufacturing process to engineers and other workers.

Computer skills. Much of the equipment that these workers use is programmable—that is, a computer language determines how the equipment operates. Semiconductor processors must modify the specifications in programs to adjust for a change in the manufacturing process, such as a change in robot sensing requirements.

Critical-thinking skills. Semiconductor processors use logic and reasoning to uncover problems and determine solutions during the manufacturing process.

Detail oriented. Because a minor error or impurity can ruin a chip, processors must be able to spot tiny imperfections.

Dexterity. Semiconductor processors must be able to use tools and operate equipment to make precise cuts and measurements.

Science skills. Processors must understand the chemical composition and properties of certain substances that they may use in manufacturing semiconductors. They need to know a lot about electronics and about the manufacturing process, which involves the application of ideas from chemistry and physics.

Pay

The median annual wage for semiconductor processors was $33,020 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,820, and the top 10 percent earned more than $48,340.

Processors employed in the semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing industry earned $32,940 in May 2012.

Most employees work full time. Because semiconductor factories, also known as fabricating plants, run around the clock, night and weekend work is common for these workers. Although some plants schedule workers for the standard 40-hour week (8-hour shifts, 5 days a week), others schedule workers in 12-hour shifts.

Job Outlook

Employment of semiconductor processors is projected to decline 27 percent from 2012 to 2022. Although there is a strong demand for semiconductors in many products, automation at fabricating plants is expected to grow, meaning that plants will need fewer workers. Because during the manufacturing process semiconductors are highly sensitive to impurities, it is more effective to use robots to do many of the simple tasks that processors once did. In addition, the increasing complexity of chips, combined with their reduced size, makes it difficult for people to work on them.

The semiconductor manufacturing industry, where most processors work, is also expected to decline, leading to more job losses. Operating a plant in the United States is more expensive than operating one in another country where manufacturing costs are often lower. This leads to companies sending the manufacturing of chips abroad, even though designing the chips will continue to take place in the United States.

Job Prospects

Competition for semiconductor processor jobs is expected to be tough because of the projected decline in employment. Prospects should be best for those who have a bachelor’s degree or experience in other high-tech manufacturing jobs. Employment opportunities are not available in all states because semiconductor plants are expensive to construct, due to the high-tech manufacturing process that semiconductors must undergo. Employment opportunities for semiconductor processors are therefore concentrated in states where there are existing semiconductor plants.

For More Information

For more information about semiconductor processors, visit

Maricopa Advanced Technology Education Center

SEMI

Semiconductor Industry Association

FAQ

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