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Biotech Industry And State Schools Build A ‘Bridge’ To Train People For Biotechnology


Aired 2/19/10

The challenge of preparing Californians for jobs in biotechnology has resulted in a new education training program in San Diego. It's a partnership between industry and education that's called the Bridge project.

— The challenge of preparing Californians for jobs in biotechnology has resulted in a new education training program in San Diego. It's a partnership between the biotech industry and education that's called the Bridge project.

California's life science industry creates some of the best-paying jobs in San Diego. The chief economist at the San Diego Association of Governments said the average salary in biotech exceeds $80,000, and that's twice the regional average.

But hiring qualified people is a challenge for the industry. So says David Webb, the vice president for research for Celgene corporation, which has a staff of 180 in San Diego. He said local job candidates very often fall short, and it's time for the education system to get people better prepared.

"There's a whole range of jobs that exist in the biotechnology industry, where if you at least understood what the industry was all about, you might be interested," said Webb.

The lack of a homegrown workforce has caused San Diego State to partner with the trade group BIOCOM, Miramar Community College and the San Diego Workforce Partnership to form the Bridge project. It's a training program to prepare students for careers in the life science industry.

Stanley Maloy is dean of the college of sciences at San Diego State. He said laboratory technicians and clinical lab scientists are just two examples of jobs in high demand. He said the goal of Bridge is to prepare people for a wide variety of biotech jobs.

"These industries rely on people who are doing some relatively basic things," said Maloy. "Dealing with equipment to dealing with finances and regulatory affairs and so on, all the way up to people who are thinking about what needs to be done to develop the next new product."

The Bridge project is getting started with a nearly $5 million grant from the Labor Department. Maloy said the project will rely on tuition and fees to sustain itself over time.

Joe Shapiro, the dean of extended studies at San Diego State, said Bridge is building on existing education programs which are being enhanced.

"One of the enhancements is to add practical experience. One of the enhancements is to add a connection for career placement," he said.

Shapiro say the creation of the Bridge project is not an indictment of the current education system. However, a study last year out of Sacramento State said California is doing a poor job of training people for jobs in science, engineering and technology. In fact, among new technology states, California was near the bottom in the number of people who get bachelor degrees in science and engineering.

David Webb, with Celgene corporation, said he agrees that California universities are not producing enough scientists. But he wants people to keep one other thing in mind.

"You do not need a PhD to work in biotechnology. In fact, if you love to do lab work, boy have we got a place for you," said Webb.

The first phase of the Bridge project is expected to begin this spring with administrative setup and recruitment of students.

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