Oregon Bioscience Association (Oregon Bio) has just upped the state’s bioscience game.

Its Biocatalyst Certificate program has launched, and with it comes opportunities for Oregon’s already burgeoning bioscience and biotech markets. The program is somewhat of a perfect storm — it’s training a whole sub-sector of Oregon’s workforce for biotech and life science companies looking to hire, and with the workforce’s growing capabilities, it’s also making Oregon that much more attractive for out-of-state bioscience companies looking to find a new home.

Oregon Bio received $325,000 in funding to launch the program thanks to Business Oregon, who, already in the market for innovative approaches to workforce development, teamed up with Oregon Bio’s executive director Dennis McNannay to target the 2014 Oregon legislature. Working with Rep. Joe Gallegos, Rep. Jessica Vega-Pederson, Sen. Richard Devlin, and Sen. Betsy Johnson, among others, they were able to educate legislative members about Oregon Bio’s established track record and push the initiative forward.

“The Biocatalyst Program is a perfect example of the benefits of a publicprivate partnership to find a solution to a shared problem. We have workers unemployed or underemployed with a core set of bioscience skills. We have private industry telling us there’s great need for workers with unique sets of advanced bio training,” says Karen Wilde Goddin, Assistant Director of Research and Policy for Business Oregon.

The certificate program offers a carefully constructed curriculum for applied STEM training, a need McNannay says was indeed in answer to growing bio tech companies who previously have had to go out of state to recruit qualified workers. Wilde Goddin points out the win-win, applauding Oregon Bio for having “developed curriculum and trained-up workers to meet an industry demand, while adding higher-wage jobs to the state.” What it boils down to, she says, “is working with industry to meet a common need, that results in Oregonians adding new work skills,

[bringing] them better jobs while strengthening an Oregon industry.”

The concept evolved from BioPro, a similar program that McNannay says “[has become] the training arm for many local biotech, medical device and manufacturing companies. Classes are created and implemented within companies for their employees, [as] sort of an internal ‘Bio U.’” BioPro saves travel dollars and time for companies who would otherwise have to send employees out of state to get necessary training and updates.

The growing biotech industry has been several years in the making, but with the expansion of OTRADI, Oregon’s bioscience incubator, and OHSU’s $1 billion Knight Cancer Challenge, there’s a substantial need for qualified candidates in the very short-term, hence the new and improved certificate program. Compared to larger, more established markets, Oregon’s bio industry employment growth is already rather remarkable. According to McNannay, these developments point “to the new trends of research and development growth,” which are in addition to the already growing arena of digital health.

“Companies such as Sonivate, [along with] diagnostic tools such as Nike’s biosensor products, showcase Oregon’s growth in the medical technology space, [but other] large companies such as FEI and Intel, not traditional health or bio companies, are now moving into that space [as well].”

Answering the current need for qualified candidates and anticipating an increased need to come, Oregon Bio researched and collaborated with industry leaders to develop the core curricula for the program participants, who are un- or under-employed with prior scientific, technical, or engineering professional work experience in need of industry-specific professional skills and training.

“Each class has been structured and tailored,” says McNannay. Particularly, they’ve been tailored to the training unique to the bio industry, including federal regulations regarding FDA specifications, compliance, ISO, quality control, etc. “These courses have been and are developed in close collaboration with the industry steering committee, with an eye of toward shorter-term trends.”

There are two tracks within the certificate program, “Medical Device Foundations” and “Quality Assurance.” The Medical Device cohort “focuses on engineering and design, while the Quality Assurance cohort is intentionally broad,” says McNannay.

“Core curriculum is the same, which reflects the base knowledge industry employees need, because much of the skills have a common foundation among companies, institutions and the public sector.”
Both tracks are designed to grow talent at the mid- and management level and are already quite popular.

“We found that with the limited number of training spots available, the application process has turned out to be quite competitive,” says McNannay. “We have a broad and diverse range of ethnic, gender and management backgrounds enrolled in our first four cohorts.”

The first two cohorts (there were 100 total slots funded) of the October 2014 soft launch just ended in late January and mid-February. McNannay notes that with the busiest hiring season being in late spring and early summer, the next step is prepping the participants for intensive job searching and interview strategies at various job fairs Oregon Bio is hosting. Considering Oregon’s steady expansion, McNannay is confident about the hiring rate for their participants.

“We anticipate that all certificated enrollees will get a job in the bioscience or advanced manufacturing sectors.”

The early success and demand of the program is quite telling; Oregon’s workforce is growing in capabilities, which McNannay says will likely be a key consideration for companies that might be looking to relocate here.

“As an industry, we anticipate the historical growth of employment will continue, especially as the state is able to leverage [developments like] the Knight Cancer Challenge.”

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April 7, 2015
Sarah Nipper
Business Tribune