Eastern NC High School Grads Get Pathway to Pharma Manufacturing Careers

Students explore pharma careers
Pitt County students explore pharma manufacturing careers. 

If you haven’t picked a career by your senior year in some Eastern North Carolina high schools, there may be a different kind of manufacturing opportunity for students in Pitt County.

A window of opportunity is opening for qualified students to take an industry-focused training program after graduation and enter a rewarding, well-paying career in pharmaceutical manufacturing.

The Pharma K12 Workforce Development Training Initiative is an industry-led program that creates a unique pipeline to fill jobs at local pharmaceutical manufacturers, explained Mark Phillips, vice president of statewide operations and executive director of the Eastern Region Office of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, which helped lead the partnership.

It’s designed to help meet the companies’ ongoing workforce needs while also opening a career pathway for young people who might have never before considered themselves qualified for these kinds of opportunities.

“This program can be for anyone, however you design your path or career. It can start here,” said Delicia Barnes, director of human resources at Thermo Fisher Scientific in Greenville, one of the originators of the collaboration.

Selected students are provided a 2.5-day training program at the Pharmaceutical Services Network at Pitt Community College (PSN@PCC). The students work in a pilot-scale environment with manufacturing equipment to learn oral solid dosage theory and manufacturing techniques. Coursework includes weighing, milling, granulating, blending, tableting, tablet coating and encapsulation.

More schools to offer the program this school year

Two recent graduates of North Pitt High School recently entered the program and are beginning their employment with Thermo Fisher. Other Pitt County area high schools will be offered the program during the 2019-2020 academic school year.

“One of the best ways to give students more opportunities is through partnerships,” said Pitt County Schools Superintendent Ethan Lenker, Ed.D. “What we are accomplishing with Thermo Fisher is amazing, truly giving students not just an education or a job but a jump start on a career.  A true win-win for our students and the local community, this is what public schools are all about.”

Since all Pitt County High School seniors are required to take the ACT/Work Keys National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC) assessment, that certification is a pre-requisite for the Pharma K12 program. Another is attendance at the participating high school’s information session, then completing and returning a program application for review.

Applications will be evaluated by representatives from Pitt County Schools and Thermo Fisher Scientific. Students who meet the selection criteria and achieve the required NCRC pre-requisite levels will be invited to participate in a prescreening process. Up to 12 of these students, who must be available for full-time employment, will be invited to participate in the program.

Training opportunity unique across the country

Mike Renn, director of PSN@PCC, who directs the training, said, “This program provides a unique training opportunity not offered to recent high school graduates anywhere else in the U.S. and we are very excited about the success of this first class.”

In addition to the pharmaceutical training, students will also learn significant job skills as a part of the overall curriculum. These include interview skills, resume writing, team-building exercises, communications, etc.

“Investing in our local communities and our employees is important to us. In the future, we hope to leverage our new on-campus training center to offer sterile pharmaceutical manufacturing as part of the program’s training opportunity.” noted Nick Buschur, vice president and general manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Companies participating throughout the region pay starting employees hourly rates well above the minimum wage. Benefits typically include health insurance coverage, tuition reimbursement, paid time off and access to 401k savings plans including a company match.

“When PCC opened the Pharmaceutical Services Center in 2017, it was considered a leap forward in Pitt County’s effort to build a talented pharmaceutical manufacturing workforce,” said Pitt Community College President Lawrence Rouse, Ed.D. “The Pharma K12 program is another major step toward meeting that objective; it’s an investment in the professional development of our community’s youth, which should result in additional career opportunities by attracting new pharmaceutical companies to the area and encouraging existing ones to grow.”

People interested in learning more can contact Phillips, at mark_phillips@ncbiotech.org.

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