Soaring college tuition costs and massive student debt loads are two dynamics that are calling into question the traditional preparation for successful professional careers. While community colleges and vocational training offer popular alternative paths, a five-year-old workforce training program in a small city on the north shore of Boston is providing recent high school graduates with an altogether different career development choice.
Over the past few decades, strict fishing limits have marginalized opportunity historically available to the sons and daughters of Gloucester, Massachusetts. Today, as dozens of fishing vessels rust in marinas along the city’s working waterfront, young residents who would have enjoyed careers in the maritime economy are instead training for successful trajectories as professional lab technicians in the thriving Massachusetts life sciences ecosystem.
A 2019 study by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation points out that “the Massachusetts life sciences sector employed over 74,000 people in 2018; an additional 12,000 jobs are projected to be created by 2024.” What’s more, “…a lack of applicants with the necessary scientific and technical skills was a significant or critical obstacle to hiring.”
Gloucester Biotechnology Academy, a program of Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute, enrolled its first class in the Autumn of 2016. Since then, the Academy has produced technicians that work in some of the most well-known labs in Greater Boston. The certificate program consists of two semesters of lab learning followed by paid internships in area biotechs. Over the course of 10 months, recent high school graduates, many of whom are underserved and un/underemployed, are transformed into technicians ready for professional industry workflows. Dexterous hands that might well have mended nets in an earlier time are newly skilled in the use of state-of-the-art instrumentation.
In Semester 1, students learn the fundamentals of laboratory safety, accurately and precisely measuring and transferring mass and volume, and collecting and analyzing large data sets. The experimental procedures then transition to a clean DNA extraction with subsequent experiments used to prepare DNA samples for library prep, sequencing on a MiSeq platform, and analyzing results within the Galaxy bioinformatics pipeline.