Semiconductor processors work in the manufacturing of semiconductors. The semiconductors are created in the form of disks of different sizes, usually 8 to 12 inches wide, which are made of silicon and cut into dozens of individual chips. The process used by semiconductor processors to make these disks, called wafers, is known as photolithography. They use automated equipment to imprint precise microscopic patterns of the circuitry on the wafers, etch the patterns, and replace patterns with metals that have the ability to conduct electricity. They then bathe the wafers in chemicals that smooth their surface and repeat the entire process. For each wafer, semiconductor processors create between 8 and 20 microscopic layers.
Within the production plant, processors work in “cleanrooms” that are kept free of any airborne matter. This is necessary because the smallest amount of dust can permanently damage semiconductors. Processors are required to wear special lightweight outer garments known as “bunny suits”. These suits fit over clothing and prevent lint and other contaminants from ruining the products. Semiconductor processors work either as operators, who monitor the equipment used in the process, or as technicians, who troubleshoot problems and fix equipment.
Those interested in careers as semiconductor processors need to have strong analytical and critical thinking skills. They need to be able to anticipate problems and take action to stop those problems from unfolding. Because they work in team settings, they must have good communication skills, both verbal and written.
In 2002, semiconductor processors earned a median hourly wage of $13.14. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $9.28, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $20.35.
Training and Education
Regardless of the particular educational route they take, semiconductor processors need to have strong knowledge of mathematics and the physical sciences. The absolute minimum requirement is a high school diploma, but most employers give preference for entry-level positions to applicants who have completed associate degree programs. Sometimes a 1-year certificate from a community college is enough to obtain employment. Those who receive hands-on training from the schools they attend are usually looked upon more favorably by employers. Those who have completed internships as part of their studies have a significant advantage. Most employers provide 40 hours of continuing education every year for all employees. Visit this page about trade schools for more information on related careers.
In 2002, semiconductor processors held about 46,000 jobs. Most were employed in facilities that manufacture semiconductors.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of semiconductor processors is expected to decline. A rise in the amount of imported semiconductors and large gains in productivity will account for this decline. However, the demand for semiconductor chips remains very high and those workers with postsecondary education in electronics or semiconductor technology should have the best opportunities.