Dec. 4, 2023
This article was produced as part of New America's Initiative on the Future of Work and the Innovation Economy. Subscribe to our Future of Work Updates & Events newsletter to stay current on our latest work. Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.
As emphasized by Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, the “science” portion of the CHIPS and Science Act will be “the engine of America’s economic development for decades to come.”
The science portion of the CHIPS Act extends the ambition of the bill beyond subsidies for semiconductor factories and semiconductor workforce development to accelerating U.S. leadership in ten emerging technology focus areas, the industries and jobs that will be produced from them, and pathways to those new jobs.
An especially significant contribution of the CHIPS and Science Act was the establishment of the National Science Foundation’s first new arm in over thirty years—the Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) directorate.
Congress charged the TIP directorate with funding “use-inspired research,” partnerships, and technology transfer activities that would ensure that federally funded R&D results in real returns for taxpayers—new technologies, startups, jobs, and pathways to those jobs.
Since before CHIPS existed, New America has closely documented how workforce development and an expanded role for community colleges have been central to TIP’s charge to grow the innovation economy and career pathways to jobs resulting from federally funded R&D.
Congress enshrined ten “technology focus areas” in CHIPS to guide the strategic direction of TIP and serve as the roadmap for technology development in the United States: The 10 key technology focus areas the law specifies are as follows:
- Artificial Intelligence*
- High-Performance Computing & Semiconductors*
- Quantum Science and Technology*
- Advanced Manufacturing
- Disaster Prevention
- Advanced Communications Technology*
- Advanced Energy Technology & Efficiency*
- Material Science*
*Overlap with U.S. Defense Technology Focus Areas, issued separately by the U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering
In addition to the ten technology areas, CHIPS also outlined five initial "societal, national, and geostrategic challenges" that the technology areas ought to help address. These are:
- Bolstering U.S. national security
- Mitigating climate change and promoting sustainability
- Strengthening U.S. manufacturing and industrial productivity
- Addressing inequitable access to education, opportunity, and services; and
- Closing skills gaps in the workforce
Assuming Congress follows through on its commitment to appropriate money to the authorizations put forth in CHIPS, these ten technology focus areas will largely comprise the R&D focus areas that power America's innovation economy.
Lastly, CHIPS charged the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop a National Science and Technology Strategy. The strategy will be updated every four years to present a comprehensive overall direction for America’s scientific and technological development. Among its many contributions, the strategy would ideally provide educators, employers, economic developers, states, and workforce stakeholders with a better sense of where the nation was headed in terms of technology development and how the education and training ecosystem should respond.
Each CHIPS-aligned technology focus area will support emergent industries, startup companies, and growth opportunities for existing employers, large and small. The result will be job creation, in some cases job elimination of redundant jobs, and new education and workforce development needs. We are already seeing examples of such jobs resulting from the recent AI boom including new jobs as prompt engineers.
As Rep. Lucas notes, the science and technology investments through CHIPS are the true drivers of long-term economic growth in America. The education and labor implications of these technology areas are worth a heightened level of attention from workforce stakeholders serious about ensuring equitable pathways to the future of work must pay attention. Not only will we need to align technology and talent development for CHIPS to be successful, but America today is increasingly diverse and inequitable.
The diversity woes that plague Silicon Valley today could be replicated in industries of the future if we don’t successfully align technology and talent development toward a more representative STEM workforce powering the innovation economy.
Such a strategy will require federal and state policy actions, more sophisticated engagement of institutions that have historically been left out of R&D-innovation ecosystems such as community colleges, HBCUs, tribal colleges, and minority-serving institutions, as well as labor unions, and metrics to better track and monitor progress, or failure, to empower equitable pathways to the innovation economy.
Maximizing equity, opportunity, and clarity around the education and labor needs resulting from these technology areas will serve as a key objective of New America’s Initiative on the Future of Work and the Innovation Economy which launched with an event on maximizing federal investments in emerging technology workforce development featuring leaders from NSF, Department of Labor, and Commerce October of this year.