While state and local officials celebrated breaking ground on a training center that will serve Baxter International and help recruit future bioscience industries, area residents want to know how they can get a shot at one of Baxter's high-quality jobs.
Baxter International has 52 jobs posted online - jobs.baxter.com/covington - for its $1 billion Covington plant and is regularly adding more jobs - nine were added Monday - a process expected to continue during the next few years as the plant ramps up to full employment of more than 1,500 employees.
In a recent interview, Baxter's Human Resources Director Calvin Klitz said Baxter has hired more than 150 employees and is on track to hire an additional 100 employees this year in a wide variety of fields.
The Georgia BioScience Training Center located across from Baxter in Stanton Springs industrial park is expected to open in early 2015, but officials say there are ways for prospective employees to get a head start if they don't already have the qualifications required to fill one of the open jobs.
The Technical College System of Georgia has a handful of programs in the bioscience and biomedical fields, including laboratory technician, engineering technician, electronic technology and regulatory assurance.
"If someone wanted to get a head start and get some training in those areas, it's available in the colleges in the region," Technical College System Commissioner Ron Jackson told The News Monday.
Jackson said the Technical College System offers two-year degrees and technical certificate programs - depending on the area of study - but he said the University of System of Georgia also offers four-year degrees in the field.
"There are opportunities for students and individuals to get a head start to impress Baxter; when you go in for an interview, you'll already have a background." Jackson said.
The majority of classes appear to be offered at Athens, Atlanta and Gwinett technical colleges, according to the system's website - Athens has a Walton County campus in Monroe.
Brien Johnson, Baxter's vice president of program management for its plasma-derived therapies - including the products that will be produced locally - agreed the educational programs were a good start, but he also emphasized that Baxter will be hiring in a number of areas.
"It's a wide range of jobs. There are certain jobs where people, frankly, don't need to know a lot about biotechnology, they need to know about the technology they're working with," Johnson said. "There are huge utilities systems with this plant for example, so we need people with training in circulating water systems, boilers, compressors, a lot of different technology they may learn through the Technical College System or somewhere else other than the BioScience Training Center."
However, once the training center is up and running it will provide a pipeline of workers trained on Baxter's specific equipment and in the company's specific procedures.
The curriculum is still being developed, but employees with Quick Start Georgia - a program of the Technical College System that develops specific workforce programs for specific industries, including Caterpillar and Kia - traveled to Baxter's Los Angeles plant to learn the company's processes so they can be replicated at the training center.
In a follow-up statement to The News, Baxter said the idea behind the training center is to maintain "a long-term pipeline of highly skilled employees who are well trained and prepared to work in a bio-manufacturing environment"
The statement said there will be training both for people who have already been hired by Baxter and by people who are seeking Baxter jobs; those details weren't yet available.
"Baxter will establish the criteria in partnership with Quick Start that determines if/when an individual has the knowledge/skills to fulfill the job requirements and "graduates" from training," the company told The News.
Rodger Brown, communications director for Georgia Quick Start, said people who enter a two-year program now will be graduating right about the time Baxter is beginning operations. Construction of the $1 billion plant is expected to be finished in 2015, and Baxter will begin production but not for sale. The company will have a two-year delay to allow federal agencies to do a litany of tests, with commercial production expected to start in early 2018.
However, even if workers don't get a Baxter job, the hope is the state will begin attracting more bioscience and life science companies. One of the major purposes of the training center is to attract future companies.
"Bio companies used to say ‘We love it (in Georgia) but you don't have an existing workforce that has a lot of experience.' And I would say mentally to myself, ‘We can't develop that kind of an experienced workforce without the industry,' so it's a chicken and egg scenario," Brown said. "The way to solve that is through a program like Quick Start."