AJC Bioscience Workforce Article: Hed to Come
Monday, February 16, 2015
Posted by: Maria Thacker
By: Hunter Lacey, AJC
Bioscience jobs and education programs are booming in Georgia, offering a variety of ways for you to begin a career in biomedicine. Just take a look at the numbers, and it’s easy to see why there’s an excitement about working in bioscience, especially if you are interested in being involved in the health and medicine field.
- Georgia is home to more than 400 life sciences companies and 225 health information technology companies, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
- Georgia had nearly 28,000 bioscience workers across more than 1,700 business establishments in 2012, according to Battelle/BIO State Bioscience Jobs, Investments and Innovation 2014, which tracks the industry.
Although many biomedicine professionals often work behind the scenes, more career possibilities are coming into the forefront, and Georgia colleges and universities are providing needed training to fill jobs.
When you work in the biomedicine field, you may be running cultures on blood samples in hospitals, involved in the creation of new products and devices, using DNA samples to investigate crimes, or a myriad of other positions. In addition, biomedical companies are hiring workers such as sales professionals and administrative staff, and biomedicine jobs also are available at colleges and universities conducting research.
Average wages in the bioscience field surpass other sectors in Georgia. Average annual wages in the state’s bioscience industry in 2012 was close to $78,277, compared to $46,981 for all private sector jobs, according to the 2014 Battelle/Bio report.
The industry is growing—and needing workers
“In general, the cost of doing business here is so reasonable, and companies find great resources here to grow,” said Russell Allen, president and CEO of Georgia Bio, an industry organization. “Biomedical companies are no exception to this, and healthcare is an area where demand for innovations continue to grow.”
In terms of number of jobs, much of the growth in Georgia can be attributed to Baxter, a bioscience and medical products company that is undertaking its largest-ever expansion near Covington area. The company plans to hire 1,500 full-time workers in Georgia at the $1 billion manufacturing facility, which will be fully operational in 2018. For some of its jobs, Baxter will be looking to hire individuals who have an associate’s degree, said Natoshia Anderson, director of STEM initiatives at Georgia Piedmont Technical College in DeKalb County.
“This field will grow faster than the national average in terms of job growth by 20 percent,” Anderson said.
The state is also building the Georgia BioScience Training Center next to the Baxter facility. The 52,000-square-foot center will be operated by Georgia Quick Start, a division of the Technical College System of Georgia.
How you can pursue a biomedical career
Two-year and four-year bioscience degree programs can be found at institutions all across the state, including Athens Technical College, Gwinnett Technical College, Kennesaw State, Georgia State, University of West Georgia and Central Georgia Technical College.
Phyllis Ingham, director for clinical laboratory technology and phlebotomy programs at West Georgia Technical College, said its clinical lab technology program is broken down into five semesters. The program is accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS).
“The first three semesters are spent on campus, where the students learn all the didactics and simulate tests in our labs, and the last two are in the clinical setting, where students spend 1,000 hours rotating through different departments—hematology, chemistry, etc.,” she said. “No two days are the same, because you never know what you’re going to see.”
Another education option is to earn a certificate from a college, university or continuing education program. For example, Athens Technical College offers a Regulatory Compliance Technician Certificate, Biological Sciences Laboratory Technician Certificate and Environmental Chemistry Laboratory Technician Certificate. The certificates are being added by schools as jobs grow. For example, compliance and regulatory jobs are being added by companies and labs to meet government standards and even respond to customer complaints.
“The need for a highly skilled, technically oriented workforce is seen throughout the biosciences industry. Time and again the message we hear from businesses is that employees need to be adaptable to the changing requirements of industry, technological changes and regulatory environments,” said Melissa Nikolic, director of programming for the Georgia BioEd Institute, which is working with high school and post-secondary institutions and the industry to strengthen the bioscience workforce.
Georgia Piedmont will be offering new bioscience technology programs in fall 2015, such as laboratory research. Anderson said other bioscience programs, such as opticianry and phlebotomy, have been success.
“Our phlebotomy program is really consistent and we have relationships with several hospitals,” she said. “As for our opticianry program, we’re the only one in this general area.”
A fun fact: Georgia Piedmont’s opticianry instructor has worked on movie sets to provide contact lens fittings. You never know where a bioscience degree might lead you.
How to be successful in the biomedical industry
A few qualities are a necessity for anyone aiming to enter the biomedical field, said Theresa Snagg, division chair of Health, Education & Professional Services at Georgia Piedmont, who serves on the panel that reviews eligibility for prospective students.
“Even though this field is mainly behind the scenes, you still want a team player,” she said.
Students also participate in an oral interview and prepare a written explanation for why they want to enter the field.
“You have to format sentences well, because you file a lot of reports,” she said. “All these things will have to do with their patients’ lives, so they have to be very sure of the steps they’re doing.”
Other necessary skills include problem solving and of course, a knack for the sciences.
“A dynamic problem solver who is able to communicate effectively and work collaboratively is the key to Georgia’s bioscience workforce,” Nikolic said.
“Any time you look at one of the surveys done by big corporations asking about the skills they want their new hires to have, you see many of the same attributes listed. These are things like critical thinking, ability to work in groups, adaptability and problem solving, not necessarily content knowledge,” said Nancy Dalman, biology department head at the University of West Georgia. “These skills are all inherent in science training and we really emphasize them in our classes.”
What to know about bioscience pay and careers
For entry-level jobs in biomedicine, pay varies, depending on the location and position. Most of the graduates of West Georgia Technical’s the two-year degree program start between $18.50-$22 per hour.
Nationwide, the median annual wage for biological technicians was $37,950 in May 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and it projects that those jobs—often working laboratories to help scientists conduct experiments and tests—will grow 10 percent between 2012 and 2022.
However, the wide range of jobs and degrees makes bioscience a potentially lucrative field for you. The average annual wage for bioscience workers in the U.S. was $88,202, in 2012, according to the Battelle/BIO report published in 2014.
Biomedicine careers also can place you on the frontline of solving challenges and helping people now and in the future. Clinical lab workers are used in procedures from cancer treatments that use molecular therapy to car accidents, where a patient may need blood to survive. Ingham said those in her field know what is wrong with a patient before the doctor does, because the tests completed in the lab are able to diagnose a heart attack, kidney function or any type of lymphoma—all through sampling blood.
“In the clinical lab, we’re at a time when it’s very fast-paced, so there’s a huge need for us to get young technologists who can run complex tests,” she said. “I always tell our students to understand that 80 percent of doctor’s decisions come from the lab, so if they didn’t have us, they would basically be guessing.”
Biomedicine is not just a career field filled with opportunities, but the work generates excitement among students.
“All those microscopic organisms are so interesting to me,” said Anthony Harper, a clinical laboratory student at West Georgia Technical College. “You can learn all these things about a person’s health just by looking at a sample of their blood.”