KU helps train the state's bioscience employees
May 07, 2013
By Cori Ast
For more than a year, Cody Servos has been looking for work. Previously employed at a local grocery store, Servos is still searching for that perfect opportunity.
"I wanted a chance to learn more and get into a field that I could enjoy," says Servos, who believes that opportunity might be in food or health manufacturing, part of the growing bioscience industry.
The bioscience industry is adding jobs four times faster than other industries and in Kansas grew 14.6 percent in the last decade - while total jobs in the private sector shrank by more than 3 percent.
Many jobs in the bioscience industry require doctorates, but opportunities are also available for people without college degrees. To help job seekers land one of these entry-level positions, the University of Kansas Medical Center offers an Introduction to Biomanufacturing course.
Sara Perkins of Lenexa enrolled hoping to find a job after she completed the course at the KU Edwards Campus in Overland Park.
"I was looking for a job and for something to improve myself," says Perkins, who was previously selling cutlery for a living. "I like the work - it's very interesting and detailed. I'm hoping for a job, something stable."
The course is a benefit both for job seekers and companies looking for workers, all at no cost to either. Students learn fundamental principles in common entry-level biomanufacturing jobs, and companies who hire them could save $2,000-$4,000 because the new worker already has the introductory training that companies otherwise would have to provide on the job.
The course could give Perkins and others an advantage to land a job with local life sciences and health companies like SAFC Biosciences and Ceva. These positions are typically available in the manufacturing process for vaccines, human or animal drugs, food and sterile lab equipment.
"Students who complete the course have a basic understanding of the requirements in the biomanufacturing industry, so these students are more competitive for entry level jobs that minimally require a high school or equivalent degree," says instructor Elizabeth Wenske-Mullinax, Ph.D., director of bioscience workforce development at KU Medical Center.
"The goal is that these individuals are 1 to 2 months ahead in training," says Wenske-Mullinax.
Students learn fundamental principles such as aseptic technique, good documentation, an understanding of regulatory requirements, and safety. They learn these through a combination of classroom, hands-on laboratory exercises and tours of local industry.
Demetrius Davis of Wyandotte County says he's learned a lot through the lab process, "We have errors and in our trial and error, we learn what to do and what not to do."
Davis appreciates the learning curve in the course and believes it will translate into the job.
"It is a challenging field, more mental than physical," says Davis.
This is the eighth such course offered by KU Medical Center and taught by Wenske-Mullinax. Originally developed in 2008 through a Department of Labor Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development grant, Wenske-Mullinax has prepared more than 50 students with a foundation in biomanufacturing.
After students complete the course, Workforce Partnership will help further prepare them for the interview and search process.
"These students know what they're getting into, so when companies hire them, they have a better sense that the employee will enjoy the work," says Wenske-Mullinax.
The course worked for Servos. In the week after taking the biomanufacturing course, he accepted a position with a major animal health company in Johnson County.
The course is co-sponsored by Workforce Partnership, a network of career centers in Johnson, Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties, with college credit available for qualifying students through Kansas City Kansas Community College.