January 16, 2012

Who's Hiring? Many Hope It's GlobalFoundries

By: Dave Canfield

Source: Glens Falls Post-Star

Scott Singletary has a history with the clean room at GlobalFoundries' Malta chip-fab.

Working for a subcontractor last year, the 50-year-old from Glens Falls helped build tracks technicians now use to shuffle semiconductor wafers around the fab's 300,000-square-foot clean room, which recently began turning out its first microchip components.

Singletary, now a technician at Associated Polymer Labs in Argyle, is hoping to go work for GlobalFoundries - and not as a contractor this time.

"I'm just hoping something might materialize," he said Thursday, as he stood in line to be admitted to a GlobalFoundries job fair. "Something on the fab floor."

He was among those lucky enough to be currently employed who came to the event in Ballston Spa, where GlobalFoundries offered information about more than 300 positions the company intends to fill in Malta over the next year. Interested applicants stood a line more than a block long in the misty rain.

Singletary said he is 30 credits shy of a bachelor's degree. He plans to add to that total.

But even at GlobalFoundries' $4.6 billion project called Fab 8 - one of the world's most cutting-edge production facilities, where components are measured in billionths of meters - Singletary's lack of a degree isn't a deal-breaker.

As Thursday's turnout shows, though, after years of high unemployment in the region, the competition for those jobs will be stiff - and also comes from people outside the area.


As of last week, 1,097 people were employed by GlobalFoundries at the Luther Forest Technology Campus. The company is aiming for a peak workforce in Malta of about 1,400 a year from now.

Approximately 65 percent of those jobs do not require a bachelor's degree, said Pedro Gonzalez, Fab 8's staffing manager.

In a recent interview, Gonzalez, who leads recruiting for the fab, offered a basic breakdown of the key positions at the facility and snapshots of the job-seekers who are tapped to fill them.

Many of the technicians and operators who work 12-hour shifts in protective suits operating machinery in the clean room have two-year degrees, he said, though some have no degree at all. Common study areas include electrical engineering, heating and cooling systems, automotive repair and, of course, semiconductor manufacturing.

"This is where community colleges come in," Gonzalez said. "That's where the sustainable workforce for this business is."

The job application process includes online assessments of the candidate's personality, he said.

"Are they responsible? How vulnerable are they to risky behaviors?" he said. "What we're trying to do is create a profile of someone whose going to work in a clean room. It's a very unique environment, and you're working with a very complex manufacturing process."

Gonzalez would not say how much technicians, who are hourly employees, are paid. But he said the pay is higher than many jobs available to someone with an associate degree. He said it's very uncommon for someone to turn down a job offer because of compensation.

These positions represent the majority of those at Fab 8. They are also the easiest to recruit from the immediate Capital District, where, while burgeoning, nanoscale science is a relatively new arrival.

The employees who oversee those technicians and supervise sections of the clean room tend to have bachelor's degrees, Gonzalez said. He said some responsibility for the manufacturing process is laid upon their shoulders.

Those with higher degrees perform tasks that require strong knowledge of semiconductors, he said. Many master's graduates are tasked with testing the success of the company's products and ensuring they meet the needs of the company paying for them.

Gonzalez said GlobalFoundries has close ties with a network of about 15 regional universities, recruiting from the University at Albany, Cornell University, and the Rochester Institute of Technology, among others.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in Troy, was the most fruitful in the last year, Gonzalez said, yielding employees with bachelor's degrees on up to doctoral degrees.

Doctoral graduates are recruited globally for research and development. They are fluent in the field, and they typically give a presentation on their thesis as part of the job application process, he said.

"These are individuals who have the new knowledge and research expertise that we need to have as part of a company that relies on innovation to stay competitive," Gonzalez said.

They were also among the first brought to Malta to get things rolling at Fab 8, some of them from GlobalFoundries' chip-fabs in Singapore and Germany.

In all, the nearly 1,100 employees in Malta hail from about 30 countries. About half of the employees were New York residents when they were hired, according to the company, which has expressed a commitment to hiring locally when possible.

Gonzalez said there's no other way.

"Implicit in our name is ‘global.' We cannot be competitive without having an international workforce. The niche we're doing in semiconductors is such a narrow skill set that it just didn't exist in this region," he said. "That's why you have this kind of mix. But it's a good mix. It's the workforce of the 21st century."


The turnout at Thursday's job fair highlighted a point few would contest: hundreds of local jobs attract a lot of attention in the current economic climate.

It was the promise of those jobs that brought GlobalFoundries to Malta only a few years ago, amid praise from politicians and the gifting of copious amounts of public dollars.

Gerald Marschke, a professor of economics at UAlbany, said the nanoscience industry is "easy to sell."

"It stimulates people and gets people excited, and possibly stimulates the flow of federal and state resources," said Marschke, who has focused his studies largely on the labor economics of science and technology.

The nanoscience industry is still in its infancy, he said, though he's confident it will revolutionize fields beyond merely computing. But he said that, to date, its impact on the economy - in terms of workforce, new products and effect on the nation's gross domestic product - has simply been "modest."

The industry saw the largest increase in workforce in the early 1990s, Marschke said.

There was no such workforce in the greater Capital District at that time. The area's premiere nanoscience school, UAlbany's College of Nanoscale Science & Engineering, was conceived in 2004. It now offers coursework up to the doctoral level.

But, as evidenced by GlobalFoundries' recruitment, it's not an industry reserved for longtime academics.

"It is a growing field, especially here in the area," said Penny Hill, associate dean of HVCC's TEC-SMART program in Malta. "If they're geared for that kind of work, it's steady work. It's going to be around for a long time, and it only requires a two-year degree."

The Troy community college offers a program in semiconductor manufacturing technology, with many of the classes in Malta. There's other related coursework available at TEC-SMART as well, including a 25-credit certificate program.

The students tend to have strong backgrounds in math and science, Hill said. Many are older, with previous college degrees and past work experience, she said.

"Maybe they have to get their feet wet in the employment world before they realize maybe this is a good career path," Hill said.

She said 16 students will graduate from TEC-SMART's semiconductor program in May.

Though the facility just around the corner from GlobalFoundries is only two years old, she wonders why that number is not higher.


Nearly two blocks from Thursday's job fair in a Saratoga County government building in Ballston Spa, toward the end of a long line, two co-workers hope to leave the restaurant industry behind them.

Mike Tetrault, a 27-year-old from Saratoga Springs, and 21-year-old Brenden O'Brien, of Ballston Lake, currently work together at Chili's Grill & Bar Restaurant in Clifton Park. But each is working toward a different future.

Tetrault is studying for a degree in computer networking systems at ITT Technical Institute. O'Brien is studying computer integrated technology at HVCC. Both were in Ballston Spa to seek any position at GlobalFoundries that might fall under the umbrella of information technology.

"I want to get some experience for when I graduate, because that'll definitely mean more money," Tetrault said.

O'Brien came to the job fair in a suit. In his hands, in the light rain, he held a folder of resumes.

"Since it was basically in my backyard, I figured, ‘Why not?' I'm just looking to get my foot in the door, honestly," he said. "I'm hoping for the best. I'm hoping for that one lucky spot."

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