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Career Spotlight: Manufacturing Supervisor at Grifols Biologicals

Discover how Andrew Chavez went from student at Los Angeles Trade Technical College to Manufacturing Supervisor at Grifols Biologicals LLC, a biopharmaceutical company located in Los Angeles, California.

What’s your current position?  How long have you been in this position? 

My name is Andrew Chavez, and I’ve been a manufacturing supervisor for six years, but I’ve been with Grifols Biologicals for nine years.

Can you give me a brief overview of what it is you do in your work?

My current responsibility now is overseeing production — making sure that we have a process that meets safety and company standards, and overseeing a team of technicians. We have to make sure we’re in compliance with all regulatory requirements. One neat thing about what we’re working on currently is that we’re doing a new bag project, meaning that instead of filling in vials, now we’re going to start filling in bags. That’s a huge accomplishment for the building that I work for right now, and a long time in the making.

How did you learn about and get started at Grifols?

I was walking to my car from campus one day in school, and I was stopped by a woman- not knowing at the time she was in charge of the Chemical Technology program at La Trade Tech. She pulled me aside and she was like, “Hey, what do you do? What program are you taking right now?” and told her that I had just graduated high school and was just working on my general education credits. And she asked me, “What do you want to do for the rest of your life?” And we got to talking…

She told me about the chemical technology program and said it sounded like my interests aligned with it, and that she thought I’d be good at it! I believe it was the next day they had an orientation for the program. I attended, and it opened my eyes. I was very interested, applied, started going to the program and got a Chemical Technologist Certificate. It was through this certificate program that I was introduced to Grifols. I’m currently working to obtain my associate degree.

What kind of education training or background does your job require?

First off, to be successful in anything, you have to have good people skills. You have to know how to talk to people. You have to know how to retrieve information and how to handle difficult situations, but most importantly, how to handle stress. Grifols is a huge supporter of education. We actually have an educational program here where they reimburse you for tuition. As far as what skills and what education is needed, an associate degree is preferred, but there’s also an equivalent level of experience and knowledge.

Did you have any hard/technical skills that made you more prepared or successful when you started the technician position?

Yes, the Chemical Technology program at the Los Angeles Technical College helped me gain a lot of technical skills. It exposed me to a variety of terms such as: OSHA, FDA, GMP, SOP, MSP, MSDS, PPE, as well as the knowledge behind chemical reactions (pH, Buffers {Acids or Bases}, and physical / chemical changes). I did not have any previous experience and I learned the meaning behind each abbreviation and how they are implemented/practiced on a day-to-day basis in the Biopharmaceutical Industry. “Documentation” was a term frequently mentioned within my classes. One of my professors was very adamant about the importance of proper documentation, and now that I have 9 years’ experience within the industry I understand why. I would always ask myself, “What’s the big deal with writing down calculations on my glove that can easily be transferred into my notebook?” Nonetheless, it is a huge deal!

I have had the opportunity of working with a lot of new hires that didn’t go through programs similar to the one I did and I believe they are at a huge disadvantage. I do not mean to take anything away from others or what they are studying, but this program really prepared me and gave me a general idea of what to expect in the Biopharmaceutical industry.

Did you have any mentors help you along the way?

My mother has been a huge supporter. I come from a Hispanic background, and my mom was basically my mother and my father growing up. I’m the first out of three kids to graduate from high school, let alone attend college and have a successful career, so far. So when I first started here, I had that unconditional love, as well as that sturdy guidance that made me want to be better. She held me accountable. When I started training, the supervisor that I was under was very knowledgeable and experienced. He basically took me under his wing to show me the ins and outs of the process, but it was my responsibility to retain that information — he said, “I can give you the keys to success, but you have to be willing to keep them and make something of it.” I feel that it’s my duty now to do that for the people that are just starting off in this career. Besides the staff supervisor, there was also a director that would talk to me about a lot of things, about life, about work. I learned a lot from him. One works here currently, and the other one passed, but they’ve both certainly had a lot to do with my success.

What do you think are some challenges encountered in this job or, or this industry?

The most challenging thing that we deal with here is when people come in and they assume they know it all. We have had people start that had previous experience from other companies, but it’s a completely different process when you’re here. When you start a pharmaceutical position, you have to come in with an open mind, be willing to learn, and be willing to ask the questions when something doesn’t make sense. Our work is also fast paced and repetitive, which can be challenging. Every day flies by and there’s not enough hours in a day to accomplish everything. So every day I show up ready to work and excited to work.

Can you give me an overview of what a typical day looks like for you?

As a technician, you first arrive to a huge facility and go to your specific building. You put on a hairnet, shoe covers, a gown, and then you put on your safety shoes and mask. Once we’re completely gowned up, you’re permitted to enter the work area. Depending on what you’re working on, there are different temperature rooms. We have people that work in freezers up to negative 30 degrees, or colder, and then we have other areas that are hot.

When you first start, your main responsibility and focus is basically to sanitize everything and help with the cleaning of the equipment while you learn and get trained on the processes. Once you’re able to get involved with the procedures, things get a lot more interesting and exciting. Before you know it you’re making medicine!

As a supervisor, I supervise a day shift team which is a total of eight technicians, including myself. Our facilities are working 24 hours a day, so we have three shifts (a day shift, swing shift, and a graveyard shift). My main responsibility is to make sure that the process is flowing how it’s supposed to be, and that the technicians are working safely, and that they’re comfortable.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering this type of job?

My biggest advice would be to think about where you want to be in five years…and then in ten years…and then take the steps you need to accomplish that. Personally, I want to move up in the company and be able to provide and give to my children what I never had.

It’s important to have a positive attitude, to get along with others, have an open-mind, etc. But most importantly, you have to love what you do, respect what you do and care how you go about it. The people who are in positions of power notice and appreciate it. And, they’ll remember you when it comes to considering you for a higher position.

Where do you see yourself or the industry in the next five to ten years?

I really see myself here at Grifols. I hope to be one of those individuals that has a plaque upstairs in our corporate office for recognition of 30 or 40 years. One of my main goals is to potentially become a manager within the company and of course complete my studies. The Biopharmaceutical industry is continuously growing, even during this Covid-19 pandemic we are encountering. We have not slowed down one bit, if anything production is inclining. So, if I would be able to have the opportunity to choose my career path all over again, I will still choose the Biopharmaceutical industry as my career choice.