Research and development (R&D) based biopharmaceutical and pharmaceutical companies are generally located in areas where there is a high concentration of colleges and universities. These educational institutions not only help feed the discovery and development pipelines with ideas and potential new products, but also provide a steady stream of young, talented individuals with advanced degrees, whose focus is R&D activities. CMOs, on the other hand, don't need to be, nor necessarily want to be, in these clusters of R&D activity. The high costs of operation in such clusters would hurt the CMO's ability to provide competitive pricing.
As a result, CMOs are often located in areas that are one to two hours driving distance from academic clusters. Unfortunately, these locations often don't have the same pool of young talent available in the cluster areas because of the lower number of colleges to draw from. Thus, in choosing these locations the main challenge for the CMO is to develop a pool of talented employees.CMOs can always go out and recruit seasoned personnel to fill some positions. However, there will always be a need for additional employees drawn primarily from the local area. A company can take a proactive approach to assure the availability of local talent. It requires time, effort, and financial support. If done correctly, this effort has an almost immediate payback.
One approach a CMO could follow is to become an active member of professional societies that promote regional educational programs. One good example is the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council's (MBC) BioTeach program. This program has a "MobileLab" bus that visits local high schools. It provides an opportunity for the local industries to directly interact with high school students and educate them about the opportunities the industry has to offer.
A CMO could also partner with a local community college to develop a program that provides additional curriculum specific to a cGMP manufacturing operation. For example, Microtest became involved with Springfield Technical Community College and helped co-develop its biotech program. The support of this program, through equipment donations, instruction, and curriculum guidance—has provided Microtest with a steady stream of excellent entry-level employees skilled in many of the laboratory operations routinely performed in the industry.
Another option is for a CMO to develop a good internship program with regional colleges and universities. If the students perform well, the company can invite them back the following year. This offers the students certainty of employment the following summer and provides the company with a trained summer staff. It also gives the student an opportunity to easily transition to full-time employment after graduation.
A company's committed involvement with local educational institutions provides students with career guidance and a clearer understanding of the opportunities this industry has to offer. Ultimately, the participating companies gain a solid pool of potential employees ready to step in and become active contributors.
John W. Dobiecki is the vice president and general manager of Microtest Laboratories, Inc., Agawam, MA, 413.439.1120,