Thinking about Core Competencies for Biotech

“Certification,” “core competencies,” “career ladders,” “credentialing,” “stackable credentials,” “accelerated learning”…

These are terms being brandished in the circles of my professional life. I suspect that large infusions of grant dollars from the Department of Labor (DOL) are at least partially responsible for the introduction of these terms into our collective consciousness. I was recently a minor participant in the writing of a DOL grant proposal and therefore tried to understand these terms and the mindset behind them. Certification, credentialing, and other such undertakings are based on identifying, as exactly as possible, what people must know/do in a certain situation.

There have been many efforts over the years to determine what biotechnology technicians must know to be successful in their jobs. These have been published in regional and national skill standards documents that can be accessed through the Bio-Link Clearinghouse. While working on the DOL grant proposal, I reexamined some of these skill standard documents in an effort to refine my own thinking as to what is truly essential for our students to master in a laboratory-based biotechnology program. Obviously the so-called “soft-skills” are essential. But what about technical skills; pinpointing these is more difficult. For example, being able to separate DNA fragments with electrophoresis seems to be a core skill when one thinks of the emergence of biotechnology as an industry in the latter part of the twentieth century. But, many of the graduates of our biotechnology program will never run an electrophoresis gel in their professional lives. Leave it in? Take it out?

Biotechnology is so vast that it is difficult to pin down its essential core. Despite these ambiguities, while working on this DOL proposal I attempted to distill the most essential “core competencies” for laboratory-based biotechnology programs. This was done in consultation with my colleagues, Jeanette Mowery, Elaine Johnson, Linnea Fletcher, and Sandy Porter. I’m providing the results for discussion and evolution.

What do you think?        

BIO-LINK 

DRAFT OF COMMON CORE TECHNICAL COMPETENCIES FOR THE BIOSCIENCE LABORATORY

 
WHAT ARE THESE STANDARDS?
 
The following document is a draft of “common core” technical skill competencies that are specific for biotechnology. Common core refers to skills and knowledge that apply broadly to most biotechnology workplaces. Specialized skills, such as operating a flow cytometer or performing the polymerase chain reaction, while critically important in some settings, are not considered to be core and are not included here.
 
This document draws on the Washington State Skill Standards1 and the Department of Labor Skills Standards2, both projects that brought in large teams of biotechnology practitioners.
 
These standards are intended to describe the skills and underlying knowledge required of entry level biotechnology technicians in:
 

  • Basic Bioscience Research/Academic Laboratories
  • Testing Laboratories Relating to Biotechnology (e.g., pharmaceutical development laboratories, quality control laboratories)
  • Small Scale Biotechnology Production Facilities (e.g., facilities that produce gram quantities of enzyme using laboratory-scale equipment)
  • Bioprocessing Pilot Plants
  • Large Scale Bioprocessing Facilities (Note: larger scale bioprocessing may have additional requirements that are considered to be “core” relating to engineering and mechanics.)

 
PRESENTATION AND ORGANIZATION OF THESE STANDARDS
 
It is not reasonable to expect entry level technicians to establish processes and procedures in a workplace, although they may do so later in their careers or in some situations. Therefore, these standards frequently use the phrase “according to established procedures” to indicate that the technician is following processes and procedures that were put in place by the employer.
 
These standards are organized around 10 core topics:
 

  1. Biotechnology Industry Fundamentals
  2. Health, Safety, and Security
  3. Basic Calculations
  4. Routine Facility Support
  5. Quality Control and Assurance; Basic Regulatory Affairs
  6. Metrology
  7. Biological Solutions
  8. Basic Separation Methods
  9. Assays, Data Collection, Data Evaluation
  10. Cell Techniques  

What do you think?        

PRIMARY REFERENCES

 
1. 2007 Biotechnology and Biomedical Skill Standards; Copyright 2007, State of Washington through the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.
 
2. Bioscience Competency Model; United States Department of Labor. http://www.careeronestop.org/COMPETENCYMODEL/pyramid.aspx?BIOSCI=Y

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Bio-Link Program: 
Madison Area Technical College

Wow!  Nice work!   Your

Wow!  Nice work!  

Your question:  Obviously the so-called “soft-skills” are essential. But what about technical skills; pinpointing these is more difficult. For example, being able to separate DNA fragments with electrophoresis seems to be a core skill when one thinks of the emergence of biotechnology as an industry in the latter part of the twentieth century. But, many of the graduates of our biotechnology program will never run an electrophoresis gel in their professional lives. Leave it in? Take it out? 

I think students should demonstrate competence of all the basic technical skills, regardless of the frequency of particular skills that are used or not used in their immediate profession.Students would be more competitive within their current company and therefore more likely to move into other positions (upwardly or laterally) that require different skill sets.So I say, "Leave It." Students should have some notion of gel electrophoresis. 
 
DD

Deborah Davis

Biotechnology Coordinator

Bluegrass Community and Technical College

470 Cooper Drive

OB 306A

(859) 246-6451

deborah.davis@kctcs.edu

Thank you for the

Thank you for the information. Lisa.  I am definitely interested in talking about this with you and everyone else at Summer Fellows.

 

 

 

Stan Kikkert; Mesa Community College

This is an absolutely

This is an absolutely excellenet document. I would love to see this get into every high school science teachers hands. We completed a BIOTECHNOLOGY CURRICULUM for the Pennsylvania Department of Education a number of years ago. I am not sure if there would be anything in the document that would be of interest to you.

I was wondering if there should be some indication of familiarity with the "organism' being used? For example, should they be familiar with the difference in morphologies of cells in vivo and in vitro? If doing protein assays would it be important to have a surface familiarity with the biochemical process that is happening?

Also, would it be possible to list job titles/descriptions at the end of the document and have them correlated to various compentencies in the document? It would be excellent if you could use actual job descriptions and starting pays from major biotech firms in this section. It would be very helpful if there were quaotes from these employers as to what they look for, what they need and what they are disappointed in seeing from the available workforce.

Awesome work!!!
Thank you,
Mark Temons, Muncy High School, Muncy, PA 17756 mptemteach@aol.com

I think that these are great.

I think that these are great. I would still like to develop an e-portfolio for my students to have when they look for jobs. If anyone has a suggestion about how to set this up, please let me know. -- Janie Sigmon (jsigmon@yorktech.edu)

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