While politicians are debating the options, Minnesotaâ€™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 â€œhands-onâ€ 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 â€œsix months experienceâ€ 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 â€œstackable credentialsâ€ 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. â€œThereâ€™s the person who is trying a different career path,â€ Olson said. â€œMaybe he or she started in disc drive industry, so they have great transferrable skills, but donâ€™t understand medical device regulations.â€ In addition, Olson said, some students are already in the medical device industry in roles like customer service. â€œThey have great product knowledge, but theyâ€™ve bumped up against the glass ceiling. Until they have the credential, they canâ€™t make a move.â€
Olson said itâ€™s important to think of the training as the first step on a career ladder. â€œThereâ€™s no longer just a horizontal pipeline. Students who take the introductory course, even if theyâ€™re already in the industry, donâ€™t know the role of marketing, or what does Research and Development do, Clinical, Regulatoryâ€”how do they all work together? We want people to understand this is a gateway,â€ he said.