Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Companies help schools produce bio-hires

Some states really do see the biosciences as an economic engine...

Biotech companies think globally about product development and marketing. But for their workforces, they need to hire locally.

What began in 2002 as a partnership between industry, government and local community colleges to retrain displaced Bay Area airline workers following Sept. 11 has turned into an award-winning, widely copied job-training program to build biotechnology's employment pipeline.

Skyline College in San Bruno was one of the first to begin working with Genentech to train workers specifically for entry-level biomanufacturing jobs.

Since its program began in 2002, 160 students have enrolled in the 12-week certificate program. Of 153 who completed it, 135 have taken full-time jobs and 20 are working toward their certificates. The average starting wage for certificate holders is $18.89 an hour.

Students who've completed a certificate program hold support positions like bioprocess technician, which involves preparing media and solutions for bioprocesses and reviewing documentation and calculations. Genentech would not say what percentage of its workforce holds such entry-level, biomanufacturing positions, but said this year it expects to increase its headcount by 15 percent company-wide. The 1,500 new employees will work in all departments at all levels.

Skyline's certificate program was created in close collaboration with Genentech to help the biotech giant meet its growing need for entry-level workers. Monica Poindexter, Genentech's associate director for corporate diversity and college programs, called the program "extremely successful."

Others in the industry have noticed. William Watson, director of the center for Workforce Development at Skyline, said that more than 25 local companies, from Applied Biosystems to Bayer to Chiron (now part of Novartis), now employ Skyline certificate holders.

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