Program to train new biotech workers

A partnership between private industry and community colleges will help fill thousands of empty jobs in growing field

Biotech firms and county community college leaders are expanding a pilot program launched three years ago to train entry-level workers to meet the growing needs of one of the darlings of Bay Area industries.

Tohelp fill the estimated 8,100 life science positions needed in the Bay Area each year, the county Biotechnology Blue Ribbon Task Force plans to bring together industry firms with community colleges to develop a training curriculum.

“The mission is to retain and grow the industry here,” said Rayna Lehman, of the AFL-CIO, and a member of the county Workforce Investment Board, which funds the pilot program to train industry manufacturing and laboratory research jobs, which involves Genentech and Skyline College in San Bruno.

To date, much of the Skyline-Genentech pilot has been funded by $3 million in special grants from federal and state coffers, the majority of which will run out next year. With more firms now showing interest in the award-winning program, members of the task force and community college administrators hope more companies will step up to the plate by offering internships, on-site educational training and even funding to sustain the program for the coming decade, according to Fred Slone, Workforce Development manager.

Facing a shortfall of about $5,000 between what it costs to train a worker in Skyline’s 12-week program and what the college district receives in federal reimbursement, finding long-term funding and support is the focus of a new Biotechnology Task Force working group. “It’s probably going to require an economic relationship as well as faculty and staff support, with training at the company,” said San Mateo Community College District Chancellor Ron Galatolo.

Part of the working group’s job will be to find funding for the program. “We hope to have several strategies in place over the next year, using blended and traditional Work Force Development money …,” Slone said.

“This is important because the biotech industry is a driving force behind our economy, so in order for the industry to prosper they need a highly trained workforce,” said Supervisor Mark Church, who chairs the Biotechnology Task Force. With about 800 life science companies in the Bay Area, not to mention a large cluster of them in South San Francisco, a key aspect is making sure locals are trained for these jobs so that the industry doesn’t have to look elsewhere, he said.

Church said he expects a draft plan of how the program could expand in the next couple of months, with classes possibly starting in 2007.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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