Pioneering new semiconductor career pathways with Micron’s Registered Apprenticeship Program

Sara Newton-Klitz | November 2023

Micron is redefining career entry into the semiconductor industry with its innovative Registered Apprenticeship Program. In a landscape where talent shortages are increasingly evident, companies like Micron are adopting new strategies to open doors to promising careers in tech.

The program represents a significant shift from traditional hiring practices. Previously, candidates were required to complete a two-year educational program before qualifying for positions at Micron. However, in response to the talent shortage and in support of our ongoing expansion in Idaho, we evolved our workforce development strategy. Micron anticipates that skilled technicians will fulfill nearly 50% of our growing hiring needs. This apprenticeship program enables candidates to begin their careers sooner, immersing them in the industry while they complete their education.

In partnership with the College of Western Idaho (CWI), an approved technical instruction provider, the Micron Registered Apprenticeship Program provides education in mechatronics, which is the fusion of mechanical, electrical, computer and systems engineering. Participants spend 12 to 15 hours a week attending classes at CWI. Then that education is supplemented by valuable training as equipment or process technicians at Micron’s state-of-the-art manufacturing fab in Boise, Idaho. Upon successful completion of their apprenticeship, students are eligible for promotion at Micron and represent the next generation of innovators in the semiconductor industry.

Community college partnerships and colleagues like the Idaho Manufacturing Alliance (IMA) are indispensable to this equation. Collaborators like these are instrumental in preparing a diverse and robust talent pipeline. Community colleges are particularly well suited for apprenticeship programs because they prepare students for careers in various fields and often enroll individuals from historically underserved and underrepresented groups, rural communities and low-income families — equalizing access to tech opportunities and fostering inclusivity.

Based in Boise, Micron’s Registered Apprenticeship Program reflects the company’s dedication to increasing access for all, nurturing talent and fostering growth. To meet these objectives, Micron offers apprentices full-time positions with competitive wages, bonus opportunities and extensive benefits such as healthcare for families, tuition reimbursement, access to fitness facilities and employee assistance programs. Benefits also include childcare options, and our new on-site childcare facility opens in 2024.

This initiative offers a nontraditional route into the semiconductor industry and provides a pathway for candidates from all backgrounds — whether they are young adults jump-starting their career, women, people from underrepresented or rural communities, veterans or experienced people returning to the workforce — to have access to these jobs.

Micron’s first apprenticeship program launched a year ago. To recognize our innovative approach, U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh joined the inauguration and toured the fabrication facility. His participation put our apprentices and Idaho on the national stage, underscoring the program’s alignment with broader efforts to strengthen the workforce and grow the pool of professionals in the tech industry.

During National Apprenticeship Week in November, Micron invited our second cohort of 13 apprentices and their families to celebrate. The event reflected on the ongoing success and workforce expansion while also honoring cohort 1 Presidential List scholars, who received a 4.0 GPA or higher last spring semester. We’re proud that cohort 1 individuals have been blazing new pathways to their future careers. And below we include profiles of two students from our first cohort.

Just as our founders were 45 years ago, Micron is pioneering. As an early adopter of semiconductor apprenticeship offerings in the country, we are charting a path for the workforce of tomorrow. Micron’s program is an investment in that future. It’s an effective and creative approach to workforce readiness, addressing the industry’s imminent needs while providing equitable educational opportunities to all.

Meet Olivia Zierenberg and Ethan McTague! These team members are college students in the first cohort of Micron’s Registered Apprenticeship Program in Boise.

Olivia loves fixing cars as much as driving them.

When she began her college studies about a year ago, Olivia was pretty sure she wanted to work in the sciences — inspired by her grandfather, an Alzheimer’s researcher — but she didn’t have a clear career objective. She studied biology for a semester at Boise State University but quickly realized it wasn’t the right fit for her.

The 19-year-old Idahoan, who excelled in math and physics at Rocky Mountain High School in Meridian, is mechanically minded and loves technology. She has worked several years as an assistant to a professional photographer, and for fun, she’s developed impressive automotive repair skills. She’s got two old Hondas (2001 Civic EX and 2007 Civic SI) that need a lot of fixing, and she’s always happy to help her family.

“I’ve done brake jobs on my cars, my dad’s car and my brother’s car,” said Olivia, who is also now studying for a two-year degree in advanced mechatronics engineering at College of Western Idaho (CWI) while working at Micron through our Registered Apprenticeship Program. “At one point, my car just randomly wouldn’t start, so I replaced the starter motor and ignition switch.”

Did she consider becoming a car mechanic? Not seriously. She describes herself as “addicted to learning” and worries that once she learned how to fix everything in a car, she’d get bored doing it repeatedly. She thinks she’d ultimately like to become a mechanical engineer.

Her mom was the one who suggested she look at CWI’s advanced mechatronics engineering technology program. This program offers firsthand training in engineering fundamentals, enabling students to work with robots, automated systems and computer-integrated manufacturing equipment.

Olivia has a hands-on job on the dry etch team in Fab 4. She ties up her hair and wears a cleanroom “bunny suit” for her shifts. It’s a bit surreal but she’s comfortable working in the windowless buildings full of whirring machines. She said the temperature in the fab is cool, not cold, and clean air is constantly circulating.

“Being in the fab is like being in a different world, just because there are so many machines,” Olivia said.

One of her work tasks is to do preventative maintenance, such as taking apart machines, cleaning them (with isopropyl alcohol, distilled water or air) and putting them back together. She’s learning how to handle “faults,” which is the term used for when a machine is down and needs to be fixed. She said the tiniest dust particle can create many problems.

Ethan put his skate shop idea on the back burner.

Ethan is a 26-year-old musician (guitarist in a band) and skateboard enthusiast. He embarked on an associate degree in business at Golden West College in Southern California to prepare for opening a skate shop. To his dismay, he found business classes painfully boring.

“My best grade was in physics,” he said. That led to some soul-searching and a change of direction in his studies. This shift was also influenced by Ethan’s enjoyment of solving logic problems and puzzles and watching YouTube videos of people building or engineering things (including real-life versions of things that exist only in comic books).

Micron employee Ethan playing guitar

He decided to dive into a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program and finish his associate degree in physics, with an eye toward getting a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.

After relocating to the Boise area with his partner (who has family in the area), he saw an ad on Indeed for the Micron apprenticeship/CWI mechatronics program.

He works in the Remote Operations Center (ROC), which is a big open office with rows of computer workstations. The ROC team monitors equipment and resolves problems in the fab via the center’s computers.

Ethan has found the work challenging, starting with the job-related lingo, but he knows he’s making progress. One of the breakthrough days that he described was when he could troubleshoot problems on fab tools at one of the workstations for almost an entire shift with minimal help.

“I was like, YES! I have a grasp on what’s going on in this part!” Ethan said. “Not the same level of understanding of a person who has been here for 10 years, but if he goes for lunch, I can probably take over.”

What does a typical week of school and work look like for them? Olivia is in class 15 hours each week at the CWI campus in Nampa and works 20 to 27 hours at Micron’s main campus in Boise. Ethan does 12 hours in class and works at Micron 28 hours each week. They also spend at least several hours (and often more) on homework each week.

Director of Micron Strategic Workforce Programs

Sara Newton-Klitz

Sara Newton-Klitz has been with Micron Technology for more than 24 years. During her tenure, she has worked in manufacturing, global procurement and corporate human resources. Sara drives transformational initiatives through senior leadership and other key stakeholders. She excels in delivering results and building key relationships in a complex and global environment. She is currently serving at the Director of Strategic Workforce Programs, supporting Micron’s US expansions and workforce development strategies. Sara holds a Bachelor of Science in Production and Operations Management from University of Idaho.

Sara Newton-Klitz