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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.
We need non-traditional ways to recruit, train and retain entry level life sciences workers

We need non-traditional ways to recruit, train and retain entry level life sciences workers

In the first blog of this series, we talked about the rationale and need to develop a well-trained and highly skilled biotech workforce to support R & D and bio-manufacturing in Maryland.  Now, I want to highlight what our State is doing to strengthen a basic workforce needed to support our rapidly maturing bio-based industry sector. My focus is on the career path for the underemployed worker trying to gain access into this new and exciting business of biotechnology. Besides, the 4- and 2-year colleges won’t produce enough workers to fill the future void.  At a recent Mid-Atlantic Biology Research and Career Network Conference held at Loyola College (www.loyola.edu/mabrc) ,  Kelly M. Schulz, Maryland Secretary of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR) stated that in Maryland, there are only 2,300 new graduates in 2017, with B.S. degrees in the biosciences.  Given that there are approximately 2,260 life sciences businesses including more than 500 core biotech firms in Maryland, is that enough of an entry-level talent pool to sustain the nee   Probably not, especially considering that a proportion of these new graduates will not stay in Maryland following completion of their degrees.

So,  what do we do to train and retain biotechnology talent in Maryland?  Two programs making a difference are the EARN Maryland program and the Maryland Tech Connection.  EARN Maryland, a DLLR program since 2014, is an industry collaboration with diverse partners working together to meet the changing workforce needs and skills shortage, bridging the skills gap and driving economic growth in our State.  In addition to the bioscience sector, EARN Maryland also targets the IT sector. EARN targets incumbent workers, as well as, low and no-skilled workers to eliminate barriers and create career pathways. Two groups, BioTrain, located in Montgomery County and the BioTechnical Institute of Maryland, Inc (BTI) in Baltimore City are EARN grant recipients working to up-skill workers and provide employment opportunities in Maryland.  BioTrain began in 2013 and is tasked with improving the job readiness of entry level employees and sharpening the skills of incumbent employees in the biosciences industry. BTI is taking a different tack expanding biosciences job opportunities to Baltimore City residents and Maryland residents.  Since 1998, BTI’s mission is to train high school graduates that are under and unemployed to be skilled workers in the biosciences. Maryland EARN has allowed BTI to expand its outreach to allow more Maryland residents to gain employment by providing the skills needed to enter into this exciting field of bioscience.

Another critical workforce program, Maryland Tech Connection (MTC) is a public-private initiative comprised of a coalition of 59 partners led by the Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corporation. MTC seeks to support the talent acquisition and retention needs of IT and bioscience businesses and assist long-term under and unemployed professionals’ transition to occupations within these high-demand industries.   MTC provides needed pre- employment coaching and job readiness skills,  to transition the client into  programs such as BTI for advanced biotechnology training where the hands-on laboratory skills are developed.

Together,  efforts like these demonstrate in part that our State has made a commitment to economic development in the area of biotechnology and we are lifting up our own bioscience community by the bootstraps.  The next blog will focus on programs of the BioTechnical Institute of Maryland, Inc. in Baltimore as the organization gets ready to celebrate their 20th year providing  tuition free hands-on biotechnology training.

 

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 served on scientific advisory boards for several large biotech companies. He has also been a mentor to many young scientists throughout his career. For the last 17 years Dr. Fawcett has been the Scientific Director of the BioTechnical Institute of Maryland, Inc. (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 the biological sciences and has provided consultation services to several small and large biotechnology companies.
How do we find talent in our bio-community or getting to 3 by 2023.

How do we find talent in our bio-community or getting to 3 by 2023.

This is the first in a three-part series about building and retaining talent in support of our growing bioscience sector.

Maryland’s bioscience community is expanding and maturing which is great news for our state.  Our bio-based ecosystem is healthy and getting positive exposure locally, nationally and internationally. Expanding and strengthening this sector to make it a key economic driver for the state is a worthy goal.  In fact, the state economic development folks have a mantra, to be number 3 by the year 2023, that is to be the third biggest life sciences region in the US, and this makes perfect sense as a realistic actionable goal.

As we expand Maryland’s bioscience community, a reliable supply of skilled workers becomes more important than ever.  I am not referring to executives, managers and department heads. I am talking about the workers that do the basic daily tasks. Let’s take for example those working in an R & D, or a quality control lab, or in a cleanroom manufacturing suite or even in packaging. As with any ecosystem, every niche needs to be filled and be productive to remain in balance with the other departments and processes existing in that ecosystem.  This balance then ensures the long-term survival and continued healthy growth of our industry sector.

So, how do we find applicants for the basic entry-level positions that are available but that often go unfilled?   We often look for college graduates with 4-year degrees to fill these spots.  Is that the right place to look?

A recent report by the Harvard Business School, Accenture and Grads of Life, states that degree inflation is a disturbing trend.  Companies are now requiring college degrees for some entry level positions when it is not necessary.   The report emphasizes that degree inflation has widespread consequences for both employers and workers. For example, a college degree increases the salary by as much as 30% and it takes longer to fill positions. Once hired college graduates have higher turnover and lower levels of engagement especially in positions that traditionally have not required a college degree. A Washington Post article written by Jeffery J. Selingo (October 27, 2017) covering the Harvard report makes a point of mentioning that “degree inflation also disproportionally affects minority workers, who often have lower levels of educational attainment.”  Two-thirds of respondents to the Harvard survey stipulated that a four-year degree excluded qualified candidates from consideration.

How do we become more inclusive and provide opportunities to everyone in our state?  My answer is to look within, literally.   We have a large untapped workforce here in Maryland.  Let’s take this opportunity to consider digging deeper into our communities to find workers who want to work and make a difference.

Part 2 of this series – How is Maryland addressing this workforce gap?

I continue this series with an overview of programs funded by Maryland and other jurisdictions to address the entry-level workforce gap. Learn how these programs provide the necessary training to provide a valuable labor resource to our growing “bio business.”

 

Posted by
Timothy Fawcett, PhD
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 served on scientific advisory boards for several large biotech companies. He has also been a mentor to many young scientists throughout his career. For the last 17 years Dr. Fawcett has been the Scientific Director of the BioTechnical Institute of Maryland, Inc. (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 the biological sciences and has provided consultation services to several small and large biotechnology companies.
Big Announcements from Maryland Tech Council

Big Announcements from Maryland Tech Council

Please see important information below regarding our office move, guest blogs and member videos! Let me know if you have questions.  I’m looking forward to seeing you soon!

  • Big Move

    Maryland Tech Council is saying goodbye to our old digs on September 20, 2017.  Please make note, our communications will be down that day and we will resume full activity on September 21, 2017.  MTC’s new headquarters will be located at Launch Workplaces in Gaithersburg MD, 9841 Washingtonian Boulevard, Suite 200, Gaithersburg MD 20878.

  • Be a Guest Blogger

    Maryland Tech Council is launching the Member Point of View (POV) guest blogs.  We are inviting members to submit content for our blog page.  The content will be focused on your niche/industry where you can add a new POV for the MTC audience. Our goal is to position you as an authority and well-known name in the industry. And for us, we will have fresh new content for the page and get new readers to our blogger community.  It’s simple and a win-win.  We will have numerous categories that you can write articles for; those will be available in the next few weeks.  We are kicking off the Member POV blogs during Cyber Security Awareness month in October.  If you are interested in submitting a blog on that topic, please let me know and we will get you started.

  • Become a Familiar Face in the Community

    Maryland Tech Council is revitalizing the “member spotlight” that is featured in the VIBE E-newsletter. We now offer the opportunity to feature you, the member, through our new and exciting video blog or vlog.  The video will be 30-45 seconds, prerecorded at our offices, about your company. We will then feature the vlog in our monthly VIBE E-newsletter.  The vlogs allow us to distribute the member spotlight through other formats such as twitter, Facebook, etc. to get you more exposure.  I mean, we are the Tech Council, right?  

 

Remember, everyone in your company is a member of MTC. Please share this important information with your team.

Warm Wishes,
Michelle

Michelle Ferrone
EVP, Operations
Maryland Tech Council
240-243-4047