Federal Grant to Forsyth Tech Will Support Workforce Skills Assessment
Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem has won a $579,961 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to define the workforce skills technicians will need for manufacturing jobs at the intersection of biomedical devices and tissue engineering.
“With the development of combination devices, sensors, photonics and implantable systems, employers will need technician-specialists who understand more than classical biological and chemical sciences and traditional engineering,” said Russ Read, executive director of the National Center for the Biotechnology Workforce at Forsyth Tech and principal investigator for the grant. “Emerging technician-specialists will also need to understand fundamental principles of electronics engineering, mechanical engineering, nanotechnology, optics, photonics and process-control/quality assurance.”
The three-year project, Skills for Biomedical Emerging Technology Applications (BETA Skills), will be funded by the NSF’s Division of Undergraduate Education-Advanced Technological Education. It will begin July 1 and be run through the National Center at Forsyth Tech.
Read will work with co-principal investigators at Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, Anoka-Ramsey Community College in Minnesota and College of the Canyons in California. Including North Carolina, the four states account for about 25 percent of the employment nationwide across all biosciences industry subsectors and 32 percent of jobs in medical devices and equipment.
“Working across geographic regions will help create a national platform for defining, providing instruction, and promoting technician careers around new specialized skills,” Read said.
The BETA Skills project will include annual meetings at Forsyth Tech including representatives from community colleges, employers, trade organizations, industry groups, researchers and other stakeholders. The project will deliver new, industry-driven skill standards that build on the work Read led for Forsyth Tech under a $15 million Department of Labor grant that ended in 2016.
Other project deliverables will include new credit-bearing and non-credit courses, certificates and an online database with information about emerging employment and educational opportunities.
“The BETA Skills project represents an important strategic partnership in biotechnology and biomedical device education,” said Forsyth Tech President Gary Green. “Forsyth Tech is proud to lead this important nation collaboration of community colleges with support from the National Science Foundation.”
BETA Skills is the second NSF project through the National Center for which Read is principal investigator. The first is the Bioscience Industry Fellowship Project, which will hold its fifth summer program for community college instructors in June.
The National Center has strong ties to national bioscience workforce development dating to 2005. It has led several federally funded bioscience workforce initiatives. Its work focuses on capacity building, best practice and skills standard generation.
“This grant is a testament to the value of collaboration, and affirmation of the significant role that medical device and regenerative medicine technologies play in this region,” said Nancy Johnston, executive director of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center’s Piedmont Triad Office.
NCBiotech and the Forsyth Tech Foundation provided funding support for a July 2017 planning meeting in Winston-Salem that resulted in the award’s success. “A relatively small investment of money, along with a shared commitment of time and talent, are now transformational,” she added. “It’s a huge return on investment.”
Forsyth Tech is the seventh largest community college in North Carolina and serves more than 35,000 students with about 1,500 full and part-time faculty and staff. The college offers associate degrees, diplomas, and certificates in more than 200 programs of study.