As the Greater Philadelphia region continues to grow in life science prowess, so too grows its need for trained professionals to support the industry. Five local organizations want to make it easier for people without higher education degrees to break into the biotech field.
To that end, The Wistar Institute, West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, Iovance Biotherapeutics, Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) and the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia just announced their partnership for a paid workforce development training program called Biomedical Technician Training Program: Aseptic Manufacturing.
The news continues the tradition of launching equity-minded workforce development programs in University City, where many life science research orgs — and employers — are located. It also follows a 2020 workforce talent study conducted by the Chamber’s CEO Council for Growth and the University City Science Center that found that in the next decade, cell and gene therapy jobs in the region could more than double from around 5,000 roles up to 11,000.
The aseptic manufacturing program is 22 weeks long and will include 10 weeks of evening classes from The Wistar Institute, a biomedical research body based in UCity. This training will focus on the foundations of cellular and molecular biology. Students will then move on to a full-time lab orientation at The Wistar Institute. The last phase of the program is a 10-week externship with Iovance Biotherapeutics, as students will work at the Iovance iCTC (Cell Therapy Center) at the Navy Yard.
Throughout the program, West Philadelphia Skills Initiative will offer professional development training for students. PIDC is connected for its ongoing Navy Yard Skills Initiative, which connects Philadelphians with employers located at the South Philadelphia hub.
This pilot program will accept 18 students, all of whom must be adult Philadelphia residents who have a high school diploma or GED and test at a 12th grade level in reading, literacy and math. Once participants are chosen, the program will start on Sept. 22 and continue until March 2023.
At the end of the training, the partners say, students will be qualified to apply for jobs as associate aseptic manufacturing technicians. These technicians are responsible for maintaining sterile labs, assembling sterile products, stocking supplies and documenting processes of biomedical manufacturers.
Apps are open through Friday, Sept. 9 at 5 p.m.
Some candidates who complete the program will have the opportunity to interview for a full-time position at Iovance.
“We are excited to help introduce a wider range of Philadelphians to career options in biotech and hope this new program can serve as a model to our industry peers to increase inclusivity in the biotech workforce and its career development opportunities,” said Iovance’s Tracy Winton, SVP of human resources, in a statement.
The Wistar Institute has been operating its Biomedical Technician Training Program for more than 20 years, and in spring 2021 made the call to scale and shorten the training to get more students on a quicker timeline to employment as lab technicians or research assistants. Dr. Dario Altieri, president and CEO of The Wistar Institute, said this new program is an expansion of the existing program and aligns with Wistar’s strategic plan to make the science workforce more diverse and inclusive.
“Wistar’s collaborations with public and private partners create a new paradigm for workforce development to support the continued growth of the Philadelphia life sciences industry,” Altieri said.
“As excited as we are about the upcoming cohort, we definitely have our eyes on the horizon,” said the Chamber’s VP of economic competitiveness, Sarah Steltz. “For us to capitalize on the opportunities that we’re seeing in life sciences, we’re going to have to think differently as an ecosystem. We’re going to have to work differently. It will take collaboration not just among workforce organizations and employers, but government, philanthropy, and higher education too.”
Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.