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Valley Programs Graduate Students Ready for Biotech

Councilman Tony Cardenas gave the keynote address to a group of about 60 students who were graduating from two different biotechnology training programs in Sun Valley, but after the ceremony students mostly bypassed Cardenas and instead lined up to meet another speaker, the training manager for Santa Clarita-based Advanced Bionics. Since November of 2004, El Proyecto Work Source Center has been training people to take jobs as facilities maintenance technicians and precision assembly workers at medical device companies across Los Angeles County. The training program was borne out of the City of Los Angeles Life Science Initiative and is supported by the State of California Employment Development Department and the City of Los Angeles, Community Development Department Business Unit. The purpose of the program is to retrain workers across Los Angeles, making it easy and practical for local companies to hire locally. “The job climate has changed drastically in California, it’s changed drastically throughout the country, and like it or not, it’s changed drastically throughout the world,” said Cardenas in his keynote address. “I think it’s very important for government to partner with the community in making sure that we have programs like this.” In 2003, the City launched the Life Science Initiative after identifying at least 170 job openings at local biotech firms like Advanced Bionics, which was recently purchased by Boston Scientific, Medtronic Minimed in Northridge and Baxter Biosciences. The entry-level positions, which ranged from customer service to manufacturing technician and supervisor opening, offered salaries starting at $40,000 per year, according to the CDD. Programs like the El Proyecto Work Source biotech classes are funded in part by a $500,000 state “Dislocated Worker Project” grant specifically earmarked for training laid off workers for biotech employment. Mayoral proposals Mayor-elect Antonio Villaraigosa made attracting new biotech and medical device companies to Los Angeles a major part of his economic platform during his campaign, continuing efforts Mayor James Hahn made during his period in office to steer displaced workers into biotechnology careers. In a report to the mayor’s office in December, the CDD worked with Nu-Kote International, an independent manufacturer and distributor of printing devices which was moving its toner cartridge operations from Chatsworth to China, and was expecting to lay off over 200 employees by the end of the year. The CDD explained to affected workers they were eligible for up to $10,000 of skills training for high growth occupations. The department also sent WorkSource application forms to workers and helped them make appointments for skills assessments at the Van Nuys WorkSource Center. Several of the workers were interested in the biotech and medical devices programs available at the Sun Valley and Canoga Park Centers. Dena Maloney, supervisor of the biotech training programs, says the training is tailor-made for the needs of local companies. “We work very closely with companies like Advanced Bionics to make sure that what you learn is applicable to the job that you’re going to be pursuing when you finish your training,” said Maloney. Customized program Caz Pereira, a partner with Gruber & Pereira Associates LLC, a workforce and economic development consulting firm in San Francisco, designed a similar program in San Francisco which trained displaced United Airlines employees for positions at biotech giant Genentech. He worked closely with Maloney and several Los Angeles companies to design the El Proyecto program. The firm also helped develop the City’s Life Science Initiative. “The curriculum is customized by the employers. Basically you’re giving them the skills that are required in the industry,” Pereira said. The biotech training program is especially well-suited for people who have had experience in a similar, regulated industry. “If people have been displaced from the aerospace industry they have similar skills that can transfer over to, let’s say, the medical device industry or biotech industry,” Pereira said. Some of the program’s graduates got jobs before they even graduated, Maloney said, and several others have lined up interviews at companies like Advanced Bionics. Several others have gotten in touch with Aerotek, an engineering staffing and recruiting company, hoping to find jobs close by. “We’re now working very hard on letting the companies know that the candidates have finished their training and are available for placement,” she said.

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