Mega-Partnership Lands Biotech Training Grant

John Pastor

3/9/2006

An effort to train workers for Florida’s growing biotechnology industry has received a boost from the National Science Foundation, University of Florida officials announced today.

The NSF awarded $599,997 to UF’s Center of Excellence for Regenerative Health Biotechnology to fund the Florida Partnership for Industrial Biotechnology Career Development and Training — an alliance of more than 40 partners in education, government and industry.

“This will help students and workers get higher-paying jobs and find better careers,” said Richard Snyder, director of UF’s Center of Excellence for Regenerative Health Biotechnology. “Likewise, having state-of-the-art training for our workforce will stimulate the creation of high-wage, high-skill jobs in what is regarded as a clean industry. It’s definitely a win-win scenario.”

Snyder and Win Phillips, UF’s vice president for research, say the partnership will create training programs at the CERHB’s education center, at Santa Fe Community College and within the Alachua and Marion County public school systems, with the expectation that these programs will eventually be reproduced throughout the state.

Work in the biotech field requires understanding scientific principles involved in diverse areas such as DNA research, genetic analysis, protein purification, drug manufacturing and product testing. Furthermore, workers need to know regulatory and quality control procedures.

It’s a unique set of skills, but once acquired, students who have them will find themselves in demand, according to Jackson Sasser, president of Santa Fe Community College.

“Students have for a few years been filling every opening in Santa Fe's Biotechnology Laboratory Technology degree program, and employers have been hiring them once they graduate,” Sasser said. “This is not surprising. SFCC and the UF Biotechnology program are partners in this program, and its course content is developed with advice and direction from our partners in the biotechnology industry.”

Beyond the Gainesville area, which includes UF’s $500 million research enterprise, area health-care facilities and sprouting biotechnology companies, the market for skilled employees in Florida is expected to become even livelier because of Scripps Florida, a major research center planned in south Florida. Scripps is expected to employ more than 500 workers and eventually create 200 new businesses and 16,000 new jobs.

Most current training programs are concentrated in existing biotechnology clusters in states such as California and Massachusetts, according to Harry Orf, vice president for scientific operations and professor of chemistry at Scripps Florida and chairman of the education and community outreach committee for BioFlorida, a statewide bioscience organization.

“Addressing the need for a better-prepared workforce improves the candidate pool for us,” Orf said. “Historically, the biotechnology industry hasn't been in place here, so there hasn't been the need for the workers. If we’re going to build the industry, we have to build the workforce.”

In the biotechnology sector, job growth and training opportunities have to occur at a similar pace, according to J. Brent Christensen, president and chief executive officer of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Gainesville Council for Economic Outreach.

“You can't let demand get too far out in front of the supply of employees,” said Christensen. “Our hope is to grow a workforce to match the growing needs of businesses. Along those lines, biotech companies will look to this area to grow or expand if a ready-made work force is in place.”

The partnership will begin by training instructors and developing coursework that is useful and appealing to high school and college students, as well as to workers interested in switching to entry and mid-level careers in the biotechnology industry, according to Bob Best, president and CEO of the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering, a key collaborator in the effort. The goal is to create model curricula and programs that can be reproduced throughout the state and the nation.

ISPE will help develop the training program and teach community college and high school instructors the essentials of “Good Manufacturing Practices” — inspection and certification standards enforced by the Food and Drug Administration that are observed when manufacturing and testing drugs, medical devices or other agents that come in contact with people.

“The field of biotechnology is an emerging sector of the health-care industry,” Best said. “The worldwide membership of ISPE and the society’s body of knowledge enable us to affect education, training and career development and prepare strong candidates to enter the biotechnology workforce. ISPE is honored to support the University of Florida in the attainment of this worthwhile goal.”

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