Last August, the Chamber was pleased to partner with the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative (WPSI), The Wistar Institute, PIDC, and Philadelphia Works on a pilot project to offer innovative workforce solutions for the region’s life sciences industry. Together the collaborators launched a first-of-its-kind Biomedical Technician Training Program: Aseptic Manufacturing, with Iovance Biotherapeutics, Inc., a late-stage biotechnology company developing novel T cell-based cancer immunotherapies, as the program’s first employer partner. The program’s successful design and implementation have led to a second cohort – an innovative workforce training model created with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

CHOP’s Biomedical Technician Training: Research Technician Program will connect Philadelphia residents with research technician jobs at the organization. More than 300 Philadelphians applied for 18 spots in the 12-week paid training program, which will run from June 26 through September 23, 2023, and feature a curriculum designed to provide candidates with the workplace and technical skills to build a meaningful career in the life sciences industry.

Participants will receive training in professional development, complete a course in life science foundations, and orient to working in a biomedical laboratory. Through the program, graduates will be prepared to connect to research technician roles where they will support research procedures through care and maintenance of equipment, performing calculations while maintaining electronic databases, and checking records/results.

Students will Learn Professional Development, Life Sciences, and Lab Skills

WPSI will provide professional development training, focusing on goal setting, networking, building support systems, problem-solving, and interview preparation. Wistar designed a course curriculum, with input from CHOP, to foster in-demand skills and train individuals for the CHOP-specific, targeted job role. The course will introduce foundational concepts in biology and biomedical research through an active-learning, inquiry-based examination of molecules and cells. Critical thinking and quantitative reasoning will be applied to authentic data to construct foundational knowledge and appreciate links between science, disease, and society. Students will gain proficiency in core scientific competencies and prepare for hands-on laboratory training.

Wistar will then provide students with two weeks of hands-on lab training in a dedicated training laboratory and adjacent tissue culture room with planned laboratory exercises, experiments, tutorials, and problem-solving sessions. The training, customized to CHOP’s needs, will prepare them for the research technician position.

Award-winning Pilot Program Led the Way

The Iovance Biomedical Technician Training Program: Aseptic Manufacturing program was announced in August 2022, followed by a 22-week paid program of class- and lab-based training provided by WPSI and Wistar, culminating in a ten-week externship at Iovance. Thirteen participants graduated in March 2023, with ten receiving positions as associate aseptic manufacturing technicians at the Iovance Cell Therapy Center, located in one of the region’s hubs for cell and gene therapy at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. As associate aseptic manufacturing technicians, their responsibilities include:

  • maintaining a sterile lab environment,
  • assembling sterile products,
  • stocking supplies,
  • and documenting processes of biomedical manufacturers in supporting the creation of cell therapies.

Program graduates that were not placed are being supported in their search to secure jobs with other local biomanufacturing organizations.

BioBuzz recently recognized the pilot program’s success with its Workforce Champion of the Year Award. But the real award recipients are the Philadelphians who found jobs in the region’s rapidly growing life sciences sector, and the region, because of their contributions to the industry.

A Model for Connecting Employers with Talent

“The work that we do is to connect employers and the talent that they’re seeking to solve attraction or retention issues for employers, or issues getting employment for the job seekers,” said Cait Garozzo, Executive Director, WPSI. “We do that through an employer-driven model. We work with an employer first. We get their commitment to interview everyone that completes our program. We identify roles that have relatively high volume, where you can hire ten, 12, 20 people at a time into that role, because we deeply believe in the cohort approach to the work.”

Then WPSI works with the employer to deeply understand the role, the job tasks and responsibilities, the organization’s culture, career pathways, everything you would want to know about a job before you jumped in, she said. “We get that information, and then we use that to design two things – one, a custom recruitment to identify the ideal candidate and to leverage our relationships in the community across the City of Philadelphia to find those people. And then we also design a custom training program.”

Regarding the partnership between Wistar and WPSI, Garozzo said, “All things related to HR, and professional development, and professional coaching, and a really supportive onboarding experience, guiding the employer through what it is to bring on a whole cohort of new employees and providing them support, that’s what the Skills Institute does.” And then, Wistar provides world-class technical training and access to high-quality labs as part of the training process. “When we put the two together, it’s going to be an unstoppable partnership,” Garozzo said.

Collaborating to Ensure the Future Talent Pool

“Ours is a city and region known for innovation and collaboration, and it’s been beautiful to watch this program, with all the right parts – professional development, class- and lab-based training, and hands-on job experience – come to fruition,” said Sarah Steltz, Vice President, Economic Competitiveness, for the Chamber. “It’s been overwhelmingly successful, as well as rewarding, to put the right training in place to create job opportunities that previously were not available to those without advanced degrees. And we can see from the high number of applicants who applied for the training positions that there is a strong need for these programs.”

Collaborating to create job opportunities was the impetus for forming the Life Science Talent Pipeline Collaborative, which Steltz oversees. The employer-led group, composed of human resources directors from academic research labs and cell and gene therapy companies, has been meeting regularly over the past two years to address the region’s workforce needs, including attracting, training, and retaining talent, and ensuring a talent pool ready for the future.

“Iovance is the first employer to benefit from the workforce training model, and CHOP will be the second,” said Steltz. “The plan is to continue to develop the program to replicate it with more and more employers. We are extremely appreciative of the employers who have partnered on the program so far and are very pleased with the program’s success.”

“Obviously, we want to run this many times over,” Garozzo said.