The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) recently sponsored a conference “Educating Biotechnicians for Future Industry Needs,” to address the U.S. bioindustry’s requirements for laboratory and manufacturing technicians over the next five years.
According to the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, science technicians held approximately 267,000 jobs in the U.S. in 2006. Biological technicians acounted for 30% of these jobs.
The Labor Dept. predicts that overall employment of science technicians is expected to grow 12% during the 2006–2016 decade, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Employment of biological technicians, however, should increase faster than the average, notes the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to about 91,000 by 2016.
Fifty conferees from higher education, secondary education, industry, government, and professional organizations met in Scottsdale, AZ, to explore ideas on how to best educate technicians for the evolving biotechnology industry.
“The key factor that led NSF/AACC to hold this conference was the maturation of the bioindustry and the expansion of the bioeconomy into all areas of our lives,” explained Sonia Wallman, Ph.D., director of the Northeast Biomanufacturing Center and Collaborative in Portsmouth, NH, and a member of the conference-steering committee.
“Bioproducts such as biopharmaceuticals, replacement organs, stem cells, biofuels, bioplastics, and enzymes are made through the work of technicians at biomanufacturing facilities around the nation. I recently read an article that noted that biotechnicians will be the middle class of the 21st century.”
The goal of the conference was to brainstorm suggestions for structuring and supporting biotechnician education in the healthcare, medical, manufacturing, environmental, food, and agricultural sectors of the industry. Educating a technical workforce for emerging disciplines such as BioMEMS, nanotechnology, and pharmacogenomics also received considerable attention from conference attendees.
“Industry participants delineated employers’ needs that span degree offerings from high school, community college, and four-year institutions,” said V. Celeste Carter, Ph.D., program director of division of undergraduate education at the NSF and another steering-committee member.
“Discussions focused on expectations for entry-level technicians and on how community colleges can educate both traditional students, who must acquire a solid background for entry-level positions, and also post-baccalaureate students, who may have advanced degrees in science but lack the laboratory skills they need to gain employment in the biotechnology industry.”