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Hillsboro Launches Oregon’s First Advanced Manufacturing Apprenticeship for High School Students

A group of high school students visit Jireh Semiconductor in 2019. Jireh is part of an apprenticeship program at Century High School in Hillsboro, aimed at training the next generation of cleanroom technicians.

Courtesy of Jireh Semiconductor

High school students don’t usually help make semiconductors.

But in Hillsboro, where companies have about 800 advanced manufacturing job openings, that’s about to change — at least for six Century High School students.

The Hillsboro School District announced Monday that it is launching Oregon’s first registered youth apprenticeship in advanced manufacturing, in partnership with the City of Hillsboro and local industry. The Hillsboro Advanced Manufacturing Apprenticeship was approved by the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries this spring.

Teenagers who complete the two-year program will be certified to work as manufacturing technicians – entry-level workers in such small numbers that Intel even ran ads during Sunday Night Football to find them.

“Everyone is in desperate need of talent and it’s only going to expand,” said Kristi Wilson, the city’s workforce development manager who helped create the apprenticeship program.

When people think of jobs at Intel, Oregon’s largest private employer, they often think of highly paid engineers. But Intel and other semiconductor companies rely heavily on factory technicians in head-to-toe bunny suits who make the computer chips that make modern life work.

The path to those jobs may be “invisible” to the state’s youngest students, Wilson said.

“We’ve been talking about the pipeline for a long time,” she said. “And there aren’t a lot of semiconductor lanes in K-12.”

The first cohort of Apprenticeship 11th graders will continue to receive classroom education at Century High. They will also work alongside mentors at Hillsboro-based Jireh Semiconductor and supplier Tosoh Quartz, earning $16 an hour to start. After graduating from high school, students can continue working for companies for $18 an hour or learn their skills elsewhere.

Intel actively supported the creation of the program but is not yet ready to take on a young apprentice, Wilson said.

Jireh Semiconductor will host three.

“We avoided really giving students the opportunity to explore what they want to do,” said company hiring manager Lynn Nelson. “For too many years, everyone needed college.”

Nelson said Jireh techs in their first year of employment can earn around $50,000, especially if they’re willing to work overnight. Jireh’s 12-hour shifts, he said, come with built-in overtime pay. He said the company offers technicians opportunities for advancement.

Officials like Hillsboro Mayor Steve Callaway hailed the apprenticeship program as fostering a diverse talent pool and a pathway to gainful employment. This pipeline could become even more important as Oregon’s semiconductor industry prepares to invest federal dollars from the $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act.

The apprenticeship program has limits. Currently, it is only available to Century High students who are enrolled in a specific vocational and technical training program. The goal is to expand access to each of Hillsboro’s high schools.

The first group of students all identify as men, according to program officials.

It’s the goal of Claudia Rizo, manager of the school district’s youth apprenticeship project, to promote the program to students traditionally underrepresented in advanced manufacturing, especially young women. This will mean recruiting girls as they transition from middle school to high school.

“Students can’t really be what they can’t see,” she says.

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