Role of Community Colleges in Workforce Development
The BayBio Workforce Com-mittee meeting took place at the J. David Gladstone Research Institute at UCSF, at an event promoting partnerships between bio-industry employers and community colleges.
Convened by the DC-based Biotechnology Institute, the meeting took place under a grant provided by Gilead Sciences. The Biotechnology Institute, a seven-year-old nonprofit spun out of BIO, first introduced its workforce development outreach activities in the LA-metro area in September 2004.
"The Biotechnology Industry and Community Colleges of California" meeting brought together over 75 attendees from colleges, universities, biotech companies, and both state and local governments. The consensus was that some workforce shortages, such as those described by Chiron's Recht, will only get worse as the burgeoning industry starts to build more manufacturing capacity in the next few years.
It was clear to the attendees that community colleges are poised to turn out a substantial number of hands-on trained workers for these new jobs, as well as continue to fill traditional technician jobs in research labs and animal facilities.
However powerful the presentations by Genentech, Epitomics, and others, it remained clear that there is still a fair amount of miscommunication to be resolved before industry partnerships with community colleges are the norm. One question that came up repeatedly by attendees dealt with the age and maturity of community college graduates.
Elaine Johnson, Ph.D., erased this concern by describing the average graduates and why they attend the community college. Dr. Johnson is the director of Bio-Link, an NSF-funded national biotech center with associated regional centers in many parts of the country. Bio-Link has been one of the prime forces behind the drive for community colleges to work with industry partners in the development of specific training for biotechnology.
"There are a lot of misperceptions about the age of community college graduates," said Dr. Johnson. "Companies tend to believe that these schools turn out only young people with two-year degrees. In reality, the average graduate looks at their community college as a place to re-train for the job market.
"They've already been out in the world of work, and the average age of these graduates gives them the maturity that employers are looking for. And, of course, they come with the hands-on skills to do the job."
Dr. Johnson added that another great part of community colleges is the word community. The employees that biotech companies find through their local colleges come from the neighborhood. He or she is someone who is committed to residing in the locale, and this often results in a level of stability that employers can't find by importing talent from other regions.
While many regions and national organizations like the Biotechnology Institute have programs to train science teachers in the K-12 market, some experts believe that the emphasis for workforce development should also take place at a more advanced stage than these early education programs.