US Department of Labor tackles biotechnology skill standards

What skills does a biotechnology technician need to know?

This seems like a simple question, but people have been struggling to define biotech skill standards since the early 90's.

Complicating this question is that many areas of biotechnology require somewhat different skills. Antibody work requires one set, plant or animal tissue culture, another; fermentation, another; manufacturing, another; DNA sequencing, yet another set. Even skills that you might think are universal, like using a microscope, are not. During my years in graduate school, I never used a microscope; I cloned genes and ran gels. Plus, many skill requirements change. These days, if I were a grad student, I'd probably be operating robots or sending my samples to a core lab.

Anyway, the Department of Labor has decided that the time has come to define the needed skills and establish a:

clear description of what a person needs to know and be able to do-the knowledge, skills, and abilities-to perform well in a specific job, occupation, or industry.

Most importantly, they want your opinion and feedback.

Quoting the DOL:

The goal of ETA's competency model initiative is to develop a dynamic, industry-driven framework for the foundational and technical competencies that are necessary for workers across all sectors of the Biotechnology Industry. The model is intended to provide a common language to inform discussion among industry leaders, educators, economic developers and public workforce investment professionals as they collaborate to:

  • Identify specific employer needs
  • Develop and evaluate bioscience/biotechnology curricula and training models
  • Develop position descriptions and hiring criteria
  • Develop industry defined performance indicators and skill standards
  • Provide a basis for development of foundational, cross-industry certifications
  • Develop assessment and testing instruments
  • Provide guidance for government investments in workforce preparation strategies in the biotechnology industry

There are numerous materials available in the form of certifications, curricula, skill standards, etc. that identify the competencies needed in an occupation that have been developed by and endorsed for use by industry. The draft model for the Biotechnology Industry has been developed by researching and analyzing these publicly available resources, existing skill standards, competency-based curricula, and certifications. The intent is to develop a dynamic framework of foundational and technical competencies for entry-level workers. The model must be industry-driven to ensure that the competencies meet the skill needs of the industry.

ETA conducts initial research and analysis, drafts a mock-up of the model, and then turns to industry for feedback and input to refine and expand the model. During this webinar, ETA seeks to introduce the draft Biotechnology Industry competency model and seek feedback for the validation of a final product for publication in late 2008.

The model outlines the skills needed to enter a number of fields within Biotechnology. Please consider the following questions as you review the model:

  1. Does the framework reflect the major competency groups important to Biotechnology?
  2. Are there any additional competencies that should be included?
  3. Are any terminology changes needed to the names or the details of the competencies?
  4. What additional groups or individuals would you suggest that ETA engage to obtain feedback?

Here's what you can do:

Webinar info
If you wish to comment on the competency model, or participate in the discussion of biotech skills, there will be a webinar, Wednesday, November 19, 2008 at 1 p.m. EST. Register soon, I don't know how many can attend, but they say that there is a limited number of spots.

Instructions for Accessing the Webinar:

  1. Click on this link:
  2. You will be prompted to type in your workforce3one username and passcode. If you do not have a Workforce3one account, you will need to create one before you can register for the Webinar. There is no cost for creating an account.
  3. Once you type in your workforce3one username and passcode, you will be redirected back to the Webinar Registration page.
  4. Once you have registered for the Webinar, you will receive an email with detailed instructions for accessing the Webinar and dialing into the conference call line. You will receive this email prior to the Webinar.

If you are deaf, hard-of-hearing, or have speech disabilities and captioning would facilitate your participation in this Webinar, you can register for captioning service through the Federal Relay Conference Captioning. Please note the Federal Relay Service requires at least 48 hours notice (2 working days) to guarantee coverage. For more information, visit

Click the links below to download and review the DOL draft documents. If you are unable to attend the webinar, you can still send your comments to Michelle K. Massie, at massie.michelle at

Biotechnology_Competency_Framework file

Biotechnology Model Draft

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"These days, if I were a grad student, I'd probably be operating robots or sending my samples to a core lab."
lol. Why would a lab get robots when it has grad students?

Hmmm. Maybe that's part of the reason advisors are always so commically wrong in their estimation of how long lab tasks should take.
They first think "how long did it take me?". Since success in science is facilitated by developing a quirk of remembering only the best experiments, the amount of time is the lowest possible amount it ever took them.
Then, to that already-low number, they ask another question "how much faster should it have gotten now that we have more technology?". To answer this question, I believe they use an analogy of electronics high technology. If we can now calculate things 1000x faster than we used to, surely we can do lab work 1000x faster as well.
Hilarity ensues.

Becca: You're probably right about the time estimates.

As for the robots, I'd probably be operating DNA extraction robots, or the robots that pipette and rearray samples like the Tecan kind, or maybe even be using the robots that people have for pouring plates or filling culture tubes.

Thanks for posting the draft documents. I"m glad to hear that a broad set of national competencies is finally being developed across all sectors. This will be particularly helpful for those of us who are trying to meet the needs of a local industry that doesn't fit one traditional mold.

By Josephine (not verified) on 12 Nov 2008 #permalink

I had not heard about this initiative and I really appreciate you're posting it. For something so broadly aimed as the "biotech community", I'm a little sad this wasn't advertised better. At least you got the word out.

By Rob Pyatt (not verified) on 17 Nov 2008 #permalink

Where the biotechnology framework and standards ever formally published? If so where are they? Thank you letting us know about such an important development.