Hunter Hamilton
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Answering The Demand for Qualified Med Device Workers

New therapies and improvements in procedures involving medical devices has spurred growth in this vital Minnesota industry and led to the need for more trained employees to meet rising production demands. At present, medical device manufacturers cannot readily find enough people with the necessary skills in the employment marketplace and some are resorting to enticing workers away from other companies, which only creates a gap elsewhere and continues the shortage.

The tendency to “steal” employees when there is a shortage is also occurring in other parts of the US where there is a concentration of companies doing business in the same industry. A recent
article in the Houston Business Journal notes that, in the region’s booming energy sector, experienced employees are retiring and the need for talent is growing, resulting in shortfall of available qualified technical people. As in Minnesota, the situation has led to a rash of employee “raids.” The article quotes Brett Haugh, principal and executive vice president at Ascende, a
human capital and employee benefits consulting firm, on the topic. “Companies are only hurting themselves by getting into bidding wars for personnel.”

Ware Technology Services is actively engaged in sourcing talent to fill the needs of Minnesota’s medical device manufacturers and has become aware, particularly during the last six months, of some companies “stealing” experienced employees from each other with offers of higher pay and more benefits. This trend is worrisome for many, and not just in the Upper Midwest. Haugh observes, “We’ve got to be able to balance benefits and wages. We cannot continue to steal from one another and increase their wages by 15 to 20 percent. … That is not a long-term solution.”

To learn more about what is occurring in Minnesota, Ware Technology Services contacted Kirby Sneen, Vice President of the Manufacturers Alliance: “We are seeing the same trend among our 400 manufacturing member companies where management in the medical device and instrumentation segment is jockeying for positions between companies.”

Sneen continued, “Two contributing factors include growth in the segment making more positions available and the fact that time to market is critical for the industry, which in turn motivates companies to hire someone who can ramp up quickly via experience and help move more products to commercialization quickly.”

“Time to market is critical for the industry, which in turn motivates companies to hire someone who can ramp up quickly.” – KIRBY STEEN

Matt Salo and Jon Olson, Biomedical Market Development Managers and Program Advisors at Anoka-Ramsey Community College in the Twin Cities’ north metro area, are seeing the same trends. They oversee the College’s successful Biomedical Technology Program which is used primarily by people in a job transition or who want to make a career in the medical device industry. They report that the program is also useful to those already working in the industry who need to attain a degree to “break through the glass ceiling.” Anoka-Ramsey’s Biomedical Technology Program was launched Fall Semester 1999 with a Biomedical Technologist Associate in Science Degree, a Biomedical Technician Certificate and Clinical Research Professional Certificate. These three innovative programs grew out of successful Minnesota Job Skills Partnership grants that the Continuing Education and Customized Training (now called Professional & Workforce Training) division had with medical device companies, beginning with Possis Medical, Inc.

These credit programs seek to:

  • Prepare students to work in Minnesota’s growing biomedical industry, as well as provide current employees an option to complete a two-year degree – which is often required for advancement in the medical device industry.
  • Give students an understanding of the Medical Device industry, its role in Minnesota and the processes and regulations that drive it, as well as a student internship experience.
  • Provide students, who had completed education programs or had experience in other fields, with a focused certificate program that could be completed in a year and would complement their background with medical device industry-specific knowledge.
  • Offer a certificate program that would help students gain employment in the industry quickly, and also help them achieve a two-year degree and, ultimately, a four-year degree.
  • Train students to manage clinical trials for medical device companies.

In 2007, another grant led to the development of an Assembly/ Production, non-credit, accelerated program which was launched around the beginning of the recession and was later scrapped due to low enrollment. “We have been visiting many local medical device companies and they have a need for these types of entry level workers,” Salo and Olson said. “The only issue is that potential assembly workers need to have a minimum of six months’ work experience.”

“By having a program like this, we can add new talent to an area where companies are currently finding shortages.” – MATT SALO and JON OLSON

Salo and Olson further commented, “Our desire is to train these workers with the necessary technical skills, and industry knowledge (FDA Regulations, GMP, ISOstandards, etc.), to help them attain entry-level jobs. By having a program like this, we can add new talent to an area where companies are currently finding shortages.” Another objective of the Anoka-Ramsey program is to create a “for-credit” pathway that allows the worker to gain additional training and be able to attain a certificate and/or an associate’s degree. “We want to see these workers get a job and then continue to take classes to provide for more opportunities,” they added. As Anoka-Ramsey finalizes the content development, the program is expected to require between 125 to 160 hours of training. The potential career tracks available to students upon completion include:

  • R&D technician
  • Manufacturing technician (with regulatory emphasis)
  • Test technician
  • QA inspector
  • Shipping/receiving/inventory control technician
  • Clean/package/sterilization technician
  • Production group lead/line supervisor

In addition to Anoka-Ramsey Community College, area high schools with certificate programs and technical schools with two-year degrees offered to students in various technical areas are seeking to turn the shortage of assembly and production workers around. The long-term solution seems clear: manufacturers must actively focus on recruiting young talent while they are still students in universities, trade schools and technical and community colleges. And, to maintain a highly-skilled workforce, emphasize training, retraining and cross-training once they are on the job.

In support of these efforts to develop the medical device manufacturing workforce for the present and for the future, Ware Technology Services (along with its sister firm in the Atterro Human Capital Group, Pro Staff which focuses on recruiting administrative and light industrial professionals) has formed an alliance with Dream It Do It MN, a foundation formed to promote the pursuit of careers in manufacturing to Minnesota students.

It will require combined and focused efforts by educators, students, workers, employers and recruiters to alleviate the current skills gap that confounds medical device industry. And, once the present situation improves, the initiatives taken will lay a firm foundation for Minnesota’s medical device manufacturers and the state’s economic future.