While politicians are debating the options, Minnesota’s community and technical colleges are already teaming up with workforce-hungry employers to make (almost) free college a reality.

The Medical Device Manufacturing and Production Training program offered by Anoka Technical College is one example. The 125-hour combination of classroom and “hands-on” work with state-of-the-art lab equipment prepares students for entry-level careers as operators, product builders or medical device inspectors.

Here are the first steps on the college-to-career ladder according to Jon Olson, Director of ProWork Training at Anoka Technical College:

  • The initial 10-week training costs $1760 and qualifies students for an entry-level job paying $14-16 an hour. Many companies will accept the training to fulfill the “six months experience” hiring requirement.
  • Many companies currently offer signing bonuses of $500 to $1000 or more, offsetting most of the initial tuition cost.
  • After completing a three- to six-month probationary period, employees become eligible for tuition reimbursement from their employers.
  • Employees can use the tuition reimbursement to complete additional 3-to-12 month certificate programs including Biomedical Technician, Clinical Research or Quality Systems.
  • Those certificates provide “stackable credentials” to transfer into two- and three-year degree programs in medical device design, manufacture or repair.
  • At the end of two years, the employee can be making $25 an hour as a Quality Technician or Manufacturing Supervisor.
  • Additional tuition-reimbursed coursework can lead to a four-year engineering or applied science degree, and to jobs paying $40,000 to $70,000 a year.

According to Olson, the average age for students in the Biomedical Technology program is 35-36. “There’s the person who is trying a different career path,” Olson said. “Maybe he or she started in disc drive industry, so they have great transferrable skills, but don’t understand medical device regulations.” In addition, Olson said, some students are already in the medical device industry in roles like customer service. “They have great product knowledge, but they’ve bumped up against the glass ceiling. Until they have the credential, they can’t make a move.”

Olson said it’s important to think of the training as the first step on a career ladder. “There’s no longer just a horizontal pipeline. Students who take the introductory course, even if they’re already in the industry, don’t know the role of marketing, or what does Research and Development do, Clinical, Regulatory—how do they all work together? We want people to understand this is a gateway,” he said.

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