Cuyahoga Community College's Metro Campus in Cleveland is situated in the shadows of a public housing project and less than three miles away from the hulking Mittal Steel mill, a lone symbol of the region's steelmaking past.
Few metropolitan areas in the United States have been hit harder by manufacturing employment losses than northeast Ohio. Politicians in the Buckeye State and throughout the Midwest have stressed the need to transform local economies from the traditional heavy manufacturing that dominated the region for much of the 20th century to high-tech businesses such as biotechnology, nanotechnology and green manufacturing applications, including fuel cells and solar energy.
Cuyahoga Community College, known locally as Tri-C, has jumped on the chance to help build this newly skilled workforce with the opening in the fall of 2008 of its Bioscience Workforce Training Center. As of December, the program had already graduated two students, had seven active participants and is scheduled to enroll 17 by fall 2009. Most of the students are displaced workers from traditional manufacturing jobs.
"Bob called and said he heard bioscience jobs were going unfilled because there were no trained people," says John Gajewski, executive director of Tri-C's Advanced Manufacturing, Engineering and Bioscience program. "So we contacted 50 to 60 companies and talked to their HR directors."
During those conversations Gajewski discovered there were anywhere from 1,500 to 1,800 positions available for bioscience-related jobs, ranging from production to quality control. Soon, Tri-C began working with local pharmaceutical and healthcare products manufacturers to develop a curriculum.
One company that immediately jumped on board with the program was pharmaceutical contract manufacturer Ben Venue Laboratories Inc. in Bedford Heights, Ohio. The company looks forward to filling future positions with higher-skilled employees, says Jason Kurtz, manager of communications and public relations at Ben Venue. "We were bringing in people from other industries who didn't understand the basics that are taught in this course," Kurtz says.
The school received a $447,000 grant from the state, which was used to install training machinery such as process control systems, analytical instrumentation and compounding equipment. The program consists of two tracks: medical device manufacturing and pharmaceutical drug manufacturing. Students in the medical device manufacturing program learn basic shop floor skills such as CNC machining, electronics and industrial maintenance along with 16 hours of a healthcare industry elective such as FDA compliance. The pharmaceutical program comprises 160 total course hours, during which students learn such applications as temperature instrumentation; pressure, level and flow instrumentation; pilot plant operation/compounding; and industry-specific training such as clean room and aseptic practices.
One attractive aspect of the program is the chance for students to work in safer and cleaner conditions, say program participants. "It's a much cleaner environment, and there's no heavy lifting involved," says student Phil Carey, who joined the program after losing his job as a machinist.
Lisa Clark operated a shrink wrap machine at a candy manufacturer for nine years before she decided it was time to move on. "I was working factory jobs and thought this would be good experience for me," says Clark. It had been quite some time since Clark was in a classroom, and she says initially there was an adjustment period. But as she's progressed in the program, Clark has noticed an added benefit. "I have a teenage daughter, and this is making her motivated," she says.
With a projected annual bioscience employment growth rate of 12.3% in northeast Ohio, Gajewski expects to see more students like Carey and Clark jumping on board and increasing participation from the healthcare industry.