In a converted warehouse on a former air force base in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Community Technical College (NHCTC) has built a 5,000-square-foot laboratory to prepare students for jobs in some of the country’s fastest growing industries: biotechnology and biomanufacturing. The lab is filled with state-of-the art equipment that allows students to manipulate DNA and cultivate cells for use in pharmaceutical products, agriculture, and environmental protection.
NHCTC’s laboratory and biomanufacturing courses go far beyond the traditional notions of “vocational education.” In the one-year certificate and two-year associates degree programs (now called “technical education”) community college students are learning processes such as drug manufacturing, regulatory compliance, and repair and maintenance of analytical equipment and instrumentation. To identify the specific competencies involved in this work (a process that helps community colleges develop practical and up-to-date programs and curricula), and to strengthen relationships between education institutions and bioscience companies, NHCTC is partnering with EDC’s Center for Science Education to create the Northeast Biomanufacturing Collaborative (NBC). The Collaborative includes partnerships among community colleges, industry, and education institutions in 12 states from Maine to Virginia.
“My work has always focused on helping people gain the skills and knowledge necessary to get good jobs, good pay, benefits, and pursue future career prospects,” says EDC Project Director Judy Leff. “It’s important to focus on people who are not going for the ‘top’ jobs—which is seventy-five percent of the country’s workers.” Biomanufacturing jobs typically are entry- to mid-level positions that require six months to two years of post secondary education, says Leff.
The NBC builds on previous work done by EDC that established skill standards for the entire bioscience industry. Skill standards are “common benchmarks for educating and training people to meet industry requirements.” In 1995 Leff and her colleagues Joyce Malyn-Smith and Monika Aring detailed the bioscience standards for technical workers in Gateway to the Future: Skill Standards for the Bioscience Industry. The current project focuses on developing and implementing skill standards for biomanufacturing jobs.
To establish these newer skill standards, EDC staff analyzed 10 biomanufacturing jobs, gathering information through a series of workshops held at EDC and NHCTC for people currently employed at biotechnology companies. Workshop participants provided information on the specific tasks and competencies of each job, as well as the academic knowledge, technical skills, and behavioral traits and characteristics needed to perform the work well.
“Participants left the workshops with a real sense of pride. They had never realized all the skills they required to do their jobs before,” says Leff. Workshop participants identified many competencies necessary for success in biomanufacturing, such as performing protein purification, preparing and monitoring cell cultures, fermenting cell cultures, and performing chemical and microbiological tests. They also identified general competencies needed for bioscience work, such as following SOPs (standard operating procedures), adhering to GMPs (good manufacturing practices), and being able to troubleshoot and respond to unexpected problems. They identified basic academic knowledge requirements, such as biology, chemistry, and mathematics. EDC compiled the information from the workshops into 10 surveys (one for each occupation) and sent it to 200 people in various biotechnology work places to obtain broader input and validation of the findings. The survey also asked workers to rate how important individual competencies were, how much training and education is required for each, and to determine where—in school or on the job—skills are best acquired.
“The information we obtain from these workshops will be used to analyze existing community college biomanufacturing curricula to determine the ‘gaps’ that exist in them - that is, competencies that are not included in existing curricula,” says Leff. “This information, plus examples from other curricula, helps community colleges determine what curriculum modules they need to develop to meet industry needs for fully qualified biomanufacturing technicians.” Additionally, the findings might lead a school to develop an internship program or spur a company to make changes in its training program. “Part of our goal is to have companies more involved with the colleges,” adds Leff.
In addition to assisting schools in improving their programs, the skill standards serve valuable functions for the bioscience industry. The standards can guide employers as they interview prospective employees, assess the readiness of current employees to move to higher positions, develop programs to prepare future employees, and conduct in-house training. For current and prospective workers, the standards help them understand what they must know and be able to do to enter or advance in the industry.
Through the school-industry partnership, EDC has helped bioscience companies donate over $100,000 in unwanted equipment, to be distributed to collaborative schools. This equipment ranges from petri dishes to high-priced thermocylers. “Stuff” that companies are ready to throw out is often considered “like gold” to teachers, says Leff. The bioscience companies will also become involved with the schools through such activities as having employees co-teach classes with teachers, providing internships for students and teachers, and jobs for graduates.
For more information:
Visit the Northeast Biomanufacturing Collaborative Web site: http://cse.edc.org/products/biomfgskills/default.asp
Learn about skill standards for the bioscience industry on the Bioscience Education Connections Web site: http://www2.edc.org/bec/index.htm
Originally published on October 1, 2004