Montgomery College is offering a free, four-week biotechnology boot camp sponsored by WorkSource Montgomery to quickly train displaced workers for entry-level bio-manufacturing jobs. The training, which runs through February 5, targets displaced hospitality workers and others who have experienced job loss because of the pandemic.
In addition to Montgomery College, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) TLST Program at the Universities at Shady Grove (USG) is also a partner in this effort to meet the urgent demand for employees at all levels in the biotech industry.
MC launched the intense training on January 11 as a pilot program to prepare participants for entry-level positions at interested local biotechnology companies. The class, offered in person at the Bioscience Education Center on the Germantown Campus, meets four days a week for four hours a day, totaling 64 contact hours.
“This is face-to-face training—and we have long prided ourselves in providing hands-on instruction. It is particularly critical that students train on equipment so they will be close to ‘bench ready’ when they start work,” said Margaret Latimer, vice president and provost at the Germantown Campus. “There is always a learning curve, but the hands-on aspect of this [training] is an important feature.”
The most urgent need is vaccine manufacturing, which will need to ramp up quickly to battle COVID-19, but the need for workers in this industry precedes the pandemic, according to Dr. Collins Jones, biotechnology program coordinator at Montgomery College.
“We are starting to hit a level of maturity in the companies. It takes a biotech company 10 to 20 years to get to the point where it’s at the manufacturing stage of a product. Now there are multiple companies that are doing that and they all need employees,” Dr. Jones said. The longstanding biotechnology credit program at the College has put about 300 people to work in the past 15 years, but now demand has taken off. MC has taken the most crucial aspects of the credit curriculum, worked with some of the local biotech companies, and created the boot camp.
These are lifelong jobs, these are not going to disappear. Many of these biotech jobs were here, the pandemic just accelerated the need.
This training provides entry-level skills such as making solutions, environmental monitoring and basic aseptic technique for cell culture processes. “These are essential jobs that have to be done as part of the production process of a vaccine or an antibody to treat cancer,” Dr. Jones said. “But once candidates get a foot in the door, biotech is a career and there is ample opportunity for upward mobility,” he said.
Thinking long term, Jones said, “These are lifelong jobs, these are not going to disappear. Many of these biotech jobs were here, the pandemic just accelerated the need. A lot of companies shifted gears. They were making drugs to treat cancer, but now they need to make the vaccine. Once the vaccine is made, they’ll go back to making drugs to treat cancer.”
According to Dr. Sanjay Rai, senior vice president for Academic Affairs, along with vaccine manufacturing, therapeutic manufacturing and diagnostic work will play a big role.
“We have a large concentration of mature companies. Lots of companies are expanding in Montgomery County—and relocating to Montgomery County,” he said.
He noted that the county received investments totaling $5 billion in the biomanufacturing area in the last 10 months. “It’s already creating opportunities—and we are helping those companies grow and get the talent they need.”
Rai added that the county is providing the funding for the boot camp. He said the plan is to offer the training for free as long as possible, but even if people have to pay, it will be affordable.
Once the first cohort starts working, the College will ask for feedback from their employers. This guidance will enable the College to continuously improve the curriculum to meet the ever-changing needs of the industry.
The College is planning more training later this year. “My hope is we are going to run as many of these as we can until either we fulfill the needs of the industry or we run out of people,” Dr. Jones said. “Based on how fast this industry is growing, I’m not sure which is going to come first.”