Can non-degreed, skilled workers thrive in the biotech ecosystem?

Can non-degreed, skilled workers thrive in the biotech ecosystem?

The skills to pay the bills, 20 years ago, was the catch phrase that started the BioTechnical Institute of Maryland, Inc. (BTI) a non-profit located in Baltimore, MD.   Margaret Penno, Ph.D,  a researcher at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, had the idea that as the regions bioscience enterprise develops, everyone should be included.  In other words, a rising tide raises all boats.  Since its founding, BTI has trained entry-level lab technicians in R & D, production and bio-manufacturing positions at institutions like Johns Hopkins and at local biotech companies such as Emergent Biosolutions and Becton Dickenson to name a few employers of our graduates. Three assumptions are the foundations of BTI. The first is that there are good people that are under and unemployed that can do the work if trained properly.  The second, is that those trained cannot afford the cost or time constraints of a college education. They need to work and BTI does not charge a tuition. And third, as biomanufacturing matures, college graduates will not want to do the repetitive critical tasks associated with “working on the factory floor.”  As it turns out, these assumptions were correct.

Those interested in this competitive program are put through a battery of academic tests followed by criminal background screening and a drug test to ensure employability prior to enrollment.   The curriculum at BTI called the Laboratory Associates Program lasts for 9-weeks and is Maryland Higher Education Commission approved.  The program is based on the principles of current good manufacturing practices (cGMP) which gives the graduates the best opportunities, whether they enter academic laboratories or biomanufacturing and learn to follow standard operating procedures (SOPs). The final capstone of the program is a paid internship designed to give a real-world experience outside of the BTI laboratories.

In 2006, BTI extended its outreach to be more inclusive and get more candidates into the employment funnel. To accomplish this goal, an additional program called BioSTART was introduced with much success.   BioSTART is a bridge program that lasts 6-weeks prior to the beginning of the Laboratory Associates Program. Now candidates enroll in our BioSTART to Laboratory Associates Program.  BioSTART accomplishes two objectives: it allows those with less math, reading or employment skills, gain critical competencies targeting success in the Laboratory Associates Program and during employment, and it provides an opportunity to learn what biotechnology is about in a slower paced environment.  The implementation of BioSTART has allowed BTI to expand its training and placement opportunities to many more motivated individuals.

The Laboratory Associates Program is all about hands-on skills that are applicable to many industries, such as biological laboratories, biomanufacturing, environmental and food testing, and bio detection.  As an example of the Laboratory Associates Program content, students start with the basics, such as hand washing SOPs and documentation.  Then move on to molecular biology topics such as DNA isolation, bacterial growth and polymerase chain reactions followed by almost 2 weeks of animal cell culture, including clean room gowning just to name a few of the topics covered in the BTI program.

What we have learned with our near 20 years of training the under and unemployed is the employer gains well-trained and prepared workers who have the necessary hands-on skills to fill laboratory positions with cutting edge companies. These opportunities are a win-win as the employer gains the necessary workforce and the employee is provided with a job that promises a future, fortifies families, and stabilizes communities while promoting economic growth for an expanding industry sector.



Posted by
Timothy W Fawcett
Author Bio
Timothy Fawcett, Ph.D. has been in the biotechnology business for over 30 years. Trained as a biochemist he has held senior positions in both academics and industry and has been a mentor to many young scientists throughout his career. For the last 13 years Dr. Fawcett has been the Director of the BioTechnical Institute of Maryland (BTI) a non-profit institute located in Baltimore, Maryland. He is also the Founder and Director of BioSciConcepts, a social venture of BTI that provides hands-on training for professional scientists in cell culture, baculovirus based expression, as well as topics such as molecular biology, PCR and real-time PCR. BioSciConcepts is an internationally recognized provider of expertise in cell culture and the biological sciences and has provided consultation services to several small and large biotechnology companies.

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