Advocates argue for biotech programs

  • July 22, 2005

HAYWARD - The biotechnology industry and academic institutions must cooperate to meet the needs of a growing work force, said professors and company representatives Thursday.

As drugs progress through clinical trials, the industry is expected to generate more jobs, many in the manufacturing sector. But filling them could prove tough. Even entry-level positions require a specialized education: laboratory skills and some knowledge of biology, chemistry and math.

"I think every college in the Bay Area could initiate a biotech program and we'd still be short," said Jim DeKloe, director of the biotechnology program at Solano Community College. DeKloe said students enrolled in the two-year biotechnology program at Solano Community College are hot commodities. "Not only can I place my students, but I get calls from Indianapolis and North Carolina, asking, 'Do you have anyone who would like to relocate?'"

Even so, DeKloe and others said it's hard to know how much to expand. No one knows how many jobs are available now, let alone how many will be added later.

In addition, it's often hard for professors to figure out what to teach. Without contact with companies, they must guess at the skills an industry job will require.

DeKloe and others met at the first meeting of the Bay Area Regional Biotechnology Center, which was formed earlier this year by Cal State East Bay (formerly Cal State Hayward) to begin a discussion on these issues. By bringing people from industry and academia into the same room, the organization is meant to serve as a conduit between the two.

"We wanted to know how we can provide the work force needed by the biotechnology industry," said Michael Leung, dean of the college of science at Cal State East Bay. "We don't know enough about what each other are doing." Cal State East Bay has a certificate programs in biotechnology and is increasing the number of students in that program from 12 to 30.

Of 98 programs around the country geared specifically toward biotechnology, 38 are in California. And of those, many are in the Bay Area. In addition to professors from Cal State East Bay and Sonoma Community College, professors from San Jose State, Ohlone College and San Francisco State came to Thursday's meeting. Most of the programs emphasize practical laboratory skills.

Until now, Genentech Inc. has done well at finding qualified employees, but it wants the pipeline to continue to flow, said Paige Lloyd, senior college programs consultant for Genentech. Genentech alone will hire 1,500 new employees over the next year, many at entry-level positions, said Lloyd.

"We want to make sure that we have people there and available when we need them," she said.

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