Updated May. 11, 2017 at 10:43 a.m.

Employers lead to fill job skills need in Johnston County

Published: 2017-05-11 10:28:00
Updated: 2017-05-11 10:43:16

JCC Workforce Development Center Johnston Community College partners with local biotech giants Grifols and Novo Nordisk to plan and update training programs for much-needed biotech careers close to home. Image 1 of 2 · Next Image…

Editor's note: This story was written for WRAL TechWire Innovator partner Johnston Community College.

CLAYTON — There is nothing new about a local business turning to a community college for help with training. But for the Workforce Development Center (WDC) of Johnston Community College, local biotech giants Grifols and Novo Nordisk provided the land, bought specialized equipment for training in biotech, and in some cases, helped pay for the instructors.

“We opened the Workforce Development Center in 2005 because people with training in biotech manufacturing is what industry here wanted,” said Joy Callahan, JCC's dean of economic and workforce development. “They were tired of seeing everybody drive past us to Raleigh and RTP.”

Now the challenge is keeping pace with rapidly changing technology and expansion.

Anyone who drives through Clayton on Business Hwy 70 can’t miss the gleaming, white, windowless facility with the Grifols name on it. A green directional sign points down a side road to the WDC. This isn’t just another industrial par. It is the Research Training Zone designated by Johnston County for tax incentives. Local economic development agencies and the Biotechnology Center in Research Triangle Park participated in the creation of the WDC and its curriculum, respectively.

The partnership began in 2001 with specialized training offered in scattered classrooms and culminated in 2005 with the WDC opening on land provided by Novo Nordisk, manufacturer of diabetes treatments. Now, as Novo Nordisk seeks to expand, so must the WDC.

“It does us well to develop the specialized program that keeps our workforce up to date,” said Gary Lohr, director of site support for Novo Nordisk, who has worked with the WDC since its conception. “We see it as a good, sustainable solution for our community. It’s a win-win for our community and local industry.”

It was a collaborative effort, said Amy Durham, director of quality compliance at Grifols, where plasma is processed into various proteins to treat diseases. “We wanted a place where people could learn the basic understanding of the equipment and the process. Biotech has a specialized need for training.”

JCC Workforce Development Center

Each of Novo Nordisk’s 700 new employees will go through training at the WDC. Lohr says the expansion wouldn’t be possible without the WDC.

Grifols, too, requires extensive training for its workforce, said Durham. Any expansion program requires coordination with the WDC.

WDC renovations require predicting the future.

“What type of equipment do we need now for work later? The technology is ever evolving,” Durham said.

Grifols plans to upgrade much of the WDC equipment in the next couple of years.

“We’re fluid. Whatever the company needs we can make happen,” said Leslie Holston, WDC director of biotechnology. The bioprocess technology curriculum is designed to prepare individuals to work as process operators and laboratory technicians in biological products manufacturing facilities, which can bring salaries of $40,000 to $50,000 annually to start.

Talent acquisition is a key element. “It speaks volumes to the community college and to the Workforce Development Center that we have the faith to know we can develop talent locally,” Lohr said.

For Callahan, the Novo Nordisk expansion means eight months to renovate the WDC, which is a harried pace that reminds her of the center’s opening. But as was true in the beginning, it’s worth it.

“These companies are right here in our back yard, she said, “so we do it and we do it well for them. They expand and bring others with them.”

The result is a more prosperous community.

WRAL TechWire Partner: InnovatorThis story was written for WRAL TechWire Innovator partner Johnston Community College.

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