As the Greater Philadelphia region continues to grow as a life sciences hub, the need for trained professionals to support the industry also increases. Five local organizations have partnered up to make it easier for people without higher education degrees to break into the biotech field.
The Wistar Institute, West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, Iovance Biotherapeutics, Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) and the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia recently announced their partnership for a paid workforce development training program called Biomedical Technician Training Program: Aseptic Manufacturing.
The news of this training program 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 University City, focusing 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, where 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 will continue 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.
Some candidates who complete the program will have the opportunity to interview for a full-time position at Iovance.
At the end of the training, students will be qualified to apply for jobs as associate aseptic manufacturing technicians, which involve responsibilities such as maintaining sterile labs, assembling sterile products, stocking supplies and documenting processes of biomedical manufacture.
The new training effort builds on a training program started in 2000 at Wistar in partnership with Community College of Philadelphia. The original Wistar program, which provided general preparation for work in biotech and until this year was spread over two summers for each cohort, has graduated 196 students.
The partners of this new initiative hope that the training program will be the start of something much bigger for the future of Philadelphia’s life sciences hub.
“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.”