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University of Rhode Island Biotech Program Feeds High Skill Job Growth

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The Biotechnology Manufacturing Program at the University of Rhode Island's Feinstein Providence Campus gave a presentation on the program's role in growing the Knowledge District, a hub for research and economic development in key industries in downtown Providence's old Jewelry District.

The program at the Providence Campus has successfully trained students for employment in the biotechnology field since 2003. Leaders of that effort discussed with Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI), ways to ensure the state builds a workforce with the skills required to support the state's growing biotechnology sector.

Congressman Langevin is on a Rhode Island Skilled Economy (RISE) Tour, see Langevin Launches 'RISE Tour' to Build Skilled Economy

At the tour launch, last week, Langevin visited Coventry High School, meeting with Career and Technical Education Center Director Lori Ferguson, students, and instructors. Rhode Island students will benefit from the program's focus on providing access to the latest technology, equipment, and training.

The forum on career and technical education with Coventry High School students and instructors was the first stop on the tour, and the University campus visit is the second.

"The idea of the Knowledge District represents the key to accelerating our state's economic recovery, and biotechnology will play an essential part in its success," said Langevin.

"Focusing our attention on high-skill industries offers the most potential for quality job growth, and Rhode Island already has major pieces in place for a robust biomedical sector with the tremendous leadership at URI. It is imperative that we support their effort to train a top-notch workforce that will help attract existing businesses and allow entrepreneurs to start new ones."

During the presentation, Dr. Denice Spero, co-director of URI's Institute for Immunology and Informatics (iCubed), spoke about ways in which the program is supporting expansion of the Knowledge District. Biotechnology Director Dr. Greg Paquette detailed the curriculum, which accommodates a wide range of students with scheduling flexibility that meets the needs of working professionals, and the university's partnerships with non-profit organizations that work to close the state's skills gap.

In addition, Dr. Edward Bozzi, the associate professor who administers the biotech program, described the program's internship and job placement efforts. As he noted to the Providence Journal, last year 23 of 28 students found jobs or internships in biotechnology for the summer, with 14 working in Rhode Island.

Prior to the discussion, Langevin toured the biotechnology labs and spoke with students about ways to ensure they receive the best possible training.

To demonstrate the promise of the biomedical sector, Langevin has referred to a report released last September on the industry in which the Milken Institute highlights that "the average job in the U.S. biomedical industry paid $78,600, more than 70 percent higher than the nation's average job."

Furthermore, it notes that "every job in the biomedical sector supports another 3.3 jobs elsewhere." Two of its top recommendations to policymakers for the United States to compete globally in this sector were to "build human capital" and "promote and expand the role of universities," the emphasis of Langevin's visit to the Feinstein Campus.

Over the coming months, the tour will take Langevin to a variety of venues that can contribute to closing our skills gap and strengthening our economy. The events advocate initiatives and create partnerships that help address the inability of employers to find workers able to fit the needs of expanding industries. He is asking companies, job training facilities and other organizations that want to be involved to contact his office with ideas.

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