Private sector to play key role in $15 million Forsyth Tech grant

The Business Journal – Matt Evans 

October 5, 2012

Forsyth Technical Community College and the 11 schools it leads on a $15 million federal grant will lean heavily on private sector companies in designing biotech credentials. U.S. Department of Labor Deputy Secretary Seth Harris made that clear when he toured the labs at Forsyth Tech a few days after his agency announced the grant as part of $500 million in national work force training funds.

There are 14 formal “Employer Partners” who helped plan and write letters in support of Forsyth Tech’s grant application, including three from or with a major presence in the Triad: Targacept, Ocular Systems Inc. and Cook Group. But Russ Read, executive director of the National Center for the Biotech Workforce at Forsyth Tech, said many more Triad companies will have input through the school’s relationships with the N.C. Biotech Center and other groups and committees. Each of those companies are expected to help planners identify the skills they need in their own employees and what kind of training standards they would consider reliable in a future job candidate.

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Forsyth Technical Community College and the 11 schools it leads on a $15 million federal grant to will lean heavily on private sector companies in designing biotech credentials.

U.S. Department of Labor Deputy Secretary Seth Harris made that clear when he toured the labs at Forsyth Tech a few days after his agency announced the grant as part of $500 million in national work force training funds.

“It’s absolutely critical to have close community college-employer partnerships,” Harris told The Business Journal. “We want to train workers for jobs that are available now and will last into the future.”

Harris gets no argument from Russ Read, who heads the Forsyth Tech-based National Center for the Biotechnology Workforce, which has been leaning on private employers as advisors throughout its eight-year history. The NCBW was established to develop teaching resources that could be used and replicated by other biotech training colleges around the country.

The $15 million grant will fund the design of new credentials for biotech workers in research and lab skills, medical devices and biomanufacturing. The credentials — be they formal degree programs, certificates or even noncredit courses — should be recognizable to employers across the country. They also should allow students who earn those credentials to build on them with further education.

There are 14 formal “Employer Partners” who helped plan and wrote letters in support of Forsyth Tech’s grant application, including three from or with a major presence in the Triad: Targacept, Ocular Systems Inc. and Cook Group. But Read said many more Triad companies will have input through the school’s relationships with the N.C. Biotech Center and other groups and committees.

Each of those companies are expected to help planners identify the skills they need in their own employees and what kind of training standards they would consider reliable in a future job candidate.

“We want them to understand that these credentials have the value of having been designed by a multipartner consortium and reflect current needs and skills,” Read said. “Portability is really important.”

Scott Sewell, vice president of technology acquisition and development at medical device manufacturer Cook Medical, said he believes his company and others have had a beneficial impact on past training initiatives, and he expects the same this time. Cook has more than 500 employees at its Winston-Salem facility.

Private employers have a lot of incentive to step up and help improve worker training, Sewell said, because the need for efficiency and productivity is ever-growing. Reach Matt Evans at (336) 542-5865 or mlevans@bizjournals.com.