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Community Colleges and Biotechnolology

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Community Colleges and Biotechnolology

Postby Dave Jensen » Fri Feb 11, 2005 8:54 am

I'm in San Francisco today to moderate a meeting between community college educators and the biotechnology industry. While in the process of "studying up" for this responsibility, I was greatly surprised by the advanced state of training for biotech jobs that exists in some areas.

At schools in the LA, San Diego, and San Francisco regions, for example, you can take courses on biomanufacturing, bioinformatics, or even animal handling. The same goes, I'm sure, for regions in east coast biotechnology clusters.

While interviewing graduates, I found that many of them are not the usual 19 or 20-yr old graduates of community colleges. Instead, they are "retrained" workers with college degrees. I've even spoken to a few PhD's who took courses like "GMP and Biomanufacturing Basics" to add to their CV and help make themselves more marketable.

To me, the content on biotech available at the community college level was a surprise. While this may not be a national phenomenon yet, my guess is that if you live in a region with biotech, examining a course catalog from your local community college may not be a bad idea.


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Community Colleges and Biotechnolology

Postby Lora » Fri Feb 11, 2005 10:35 am

Dave--

Do you find that these courses are more or less successful than the usual training seminars industry uses to train employees? Do the students of these classes know their GLP/cGMP well, understanding the history and purpose of the regs, or do you find that the students take the course but then perceive the information as so basic that they don't use it regularly? Do they teach more of a old-style paper notebooking method, or do they practice the use of 21CFR part 11 software like the NuGenesis platform?

I have long wished in vain for some sort of post-bachelor's certification program that would train science students in industrial science; it would cut about 3 months off the training lag time for new hires.
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Community Colleges and Biotechnolology

Postby Doug » Fri Feb 11, 2005 12:23 pm

Lora presents an interesting point. Whose job is it to train new hires, and what are the expectations of newly graduated workers? There was a lot of resentment when faculty at the school I attended became part of the state university system and it appeared that what was taught would be driven at least partially by the developing biotech industry. Is it appropriate for biotech companies to expect recent graduates to have certain industry-specific skills, and what should those skills be? In fact, where is the line drawn for how much (or little) training a company is expected to provide? One could argue that an undergraduate curriculum should require a course in lab safety procedures or hazardous materials handling, to take the argument to its logical extreme.
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Community Colleges and Biotechnolology--be afraid

Postby A. Sam » Fri Feb 11, 2005 2:08 pm

I fear community colleges. I fear most higher education institutions. The reason is because they create tension. Do you know who's pushing these new programs in biotechnology forward? It certainly isn't the needs of the market place, it's the marketing departments of the schools. Schools exist to make money, not to meet the need for workers. Right now they are capitalizing on the hype that the chamber of commerce, local governments and community business boosters are drumming up that biotechnology is a major employer of the future. Those entities are just desperate for something to point to so that all the workers displaced by outsourcing and the bursting of the internet bubble don't riot in the streets. The schools are stepping in to capitalize. There are still endless ads on afternoon TV from ITT tech and all these trade schools talking about the huge demand for computer programmers. That's laughable. And it is also pure greed and these new courses in biotech are the same thing. When these middle aged folks retrain for biotech careers and then find that the promises the schools made for employment don't materialize, that's going to hurt all of us. Education is too important to be left to the enrollment departments to advise us on how best to obtain it.

I dare say that the same thing goes for all the talk of getting an MBA right out of school that shows up in this forum. People get comfortable with going to school and the schools know this too and say things like "well with just a little more school look at all these jobs you can get after you finish our program". Don't believe it. The only people worth listening to about career prospects are people who would hire you.
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Community Colleges and Biotechnolology--be afraid

Postby Andy » Fri Feb 11, 2005 4:35 pm

Way too cynical Sam, in my opinion. The small biotech I worked at in the Midwest hired at least 8 people I can think of off the top of my head directly from a community college based training program. That's 8 out of 65 people.

If anyone thinks they'll be handed a job on a sliver platter just for finishing some degree program, they should wake up to reality. It takes more than a degree. That much is well taken same, but the rest of your post I think goes a bit overboard.

Andy

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Community Colleges and Biotechnolology--be afraid

Postby A. Sam » Fri Feb 11, 2005 5:01 pm

8 jobs? Well, in the last 6 months here in San Diego biotech companies have shed literally thousands of jobs. These are people on the street with graduate degrees and years of direct experience with mnfg, reg compliance, project management, etc. The people coming out of the UCSD extension courses by the hundreds are wondering what they paid for. My post might be strongly worded but the idea to not rely on recruitment campaigns for career guidance is not wrong.
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Community Colleges and Biotechnolology--be afraid

Postby Lora » Fri Feb 11, 2005 5:51 pm

Sam--

OK, imagine you're a college president. You are well aware that most of the managerial jobs that used to be the province of American college grads are now being shipped to Asia en masse. You know that the driving force for most new products (and thus, new jobs) is inventors. So, you reason, we need to make more inventors!

Their logic, and frighteningly, the logic of most economists, really is that simplistic. Have a chat with the local college president: most of them have regular appearances at open houses, art openings, Chamber of Commerce meetings. Even if you point out the many factors that have driven job creation in the past, they usually complain they have no influence over things like gov't policy. And it's true, they are much more removed from policy decisions than other segments of society. Personally I see this as a failure of the administrators to work effectively for change, but that's just my opinion. They do try to change the things they can, which in their view makes a very short list.

They draw their ideas about demographics and future needs of the market from the same issues of Fortune and Newsweek that the general public does, with maybe an occasional issue of The Economist thrown in for good measure. You could argue that those sources are a big pile of horse puckey, and I would agree, but that doesn't do much to further the fine art of divining which jobs will be created in the future. And I don't think they have time to read anything else when they're busy dealing with academian politics, student dust-ups, budget shortfalls, and all the issues that go with that type of job.

If you've got recommendations for how to predict what jobs will be demanded in the future, by all means, let's hear it! I am all ears.
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Community Colleges and Biotechnolology--be afraid

Postby A. Sam » Fri Feb 11, 2005 7:28 pm

Where will the jobs of the future come from? That's the 64 thousand dollar question that I've brought up on this forum before with no takers. I sure don't know and it's kind of outside the scope of this forum anyway. But when people pitch that it will surely be biotech, it smells like they're trying to make a buck and I take umbrage at that.

I'll take the bait though, here's an idea for jobs of the future: One idea that's being promulgated by Thomas Feldman of the NYT is the "geo-green" alternative. It makes an analogy between Roosevelt calling for the Manhattan project and Kennedy calling manned for a moon launch. Accomplishing the vision of those moments spawned a generation of scientists and engineers. Without bold national technology imperatives we've produced a generation of money managers and lawyers. Today the thing for Bush to do would be to call for a Manhattan project styled effort at achieving oil-independence. Cheap, clean, renewable energy. It's a worthy goal, very lucrative, could be driven from funds that would be left by the lack of need to launch wars because you'd have political and economic reform in the Middle East and South America. Check out
http://www.indianexpress.com/full_story.php?content_id=63716
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Community Colleges and Biotechnolology

Postby Dave Jensen » Fri Feb 11, 2005 9:04 pm

Hi Lora,

I just got back to my hotel after the Community Colleges Biotechnology program (a Biotechnology Institute event, sponsored by Gilead Sciences). To answer your question, I was really blown away by the kinds of things that they are doing right now. For example, they compared side-by-side a training course run by a for-profit company that teaches for 3-days on GMP guidelines with the community college course. The content at the community college program was far superior and cost $48. The 3-day course cost $1800. Take your pick.

I don't know what the notebooking software situation is for them. We had more of an overview and not the specifics of their course content. I do know, however, that certain people in the audience of these meetings (from companies like Baxter, Amgen, Genentech, etc) consistently rave about the graduates they get, and how "hands-on" they are in needed skills.

Interestingly, they teach on "soft skills" as well, which means that they get some training on interviewing, teamwork, etc. Not even four year schools provide a lot of that.

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Community Colleges and Biotechnolology--be afraid

Postby Dave Jensen » Fri Feb 11, 2005 9:14 pm

Sam,

I loved that post. You are truly a skeptic (from time to time) and we need more skepticism in order to ferret out the hype which so often shows up in our industry sector. (Remember the Business Week "Best 100 jobs" a few years ago, where Biologist was #1 and had an average salary of $100K?).

Yes, a Community College or some school in Des Moines, IA, pumping out Biotech grads that have nowhere to go after their schooling is just plain outrageous. Especially because those kinds of graduates want to stay in their COMMUNITY and not get relocated to the bay area.

However, a professional consulting organization called The Radford Group just did a study in San Francisco, and the combined total of open positions in the NEXT YEAR is more than 9,000 people. And the area just isn't going to support that continued "10% growth a year" without having some of those lower level jobs get filled via Community Colleges.

So, while I agree with you that Marketing departments drive schools to take on "hot" technology (is Nanotech next?), there is a REAL need in certain communities . . . many parts of CA are going to need these graduates sooner rather than later. They are getting snapped up by the local co's here in the bay area,

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