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The PA Secretary of Labor and Industry visits The Wistar Institute on June 9. Photo: Jensen Toussaint/AL DÍA News.
The PA Secretary of Labor and Industry visits The Wistar Institute on June 9. Photo: Jensen Toussaint/AL DÍA News.

The Wistar Institute, home to the Biomedical Technician Training Program

The apprenticeship program has been a springboard for diverse students to gain hands-on skills for life science careers in the region, as aided by the state.

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Since the turn of the millennium, the Biomedical Technician Training (BTT) Program at The Wistar Institute has prepared countless students for new career opportunities within the biomedical field. 

Launched in 2000 in partnership with the Community College of Philadelphia, the program has since expanded to also partner with Montgomery County Community College and Cheyney University to become a crucial springboard for diverse and underrepresented students to gain the necessary skills to pursue life science careers in the region. 

On Thursday, June 9, Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry Secretary Jennifer Berrier stopped by for a visit to the Wistar Institute to meet with the apprentices and instructors, and learn about the critical work being done. 

“It’s very impressive, learning the history of how the Department has helped the apprenticeship program that Wistar has founded,” said Secretary Berrier to AL DÍA.

The Wistar Institute's BTT Program prepares college students for biomedical careers. Photo: Jensen Toussaint/AL DÍA News.
The Wistar Institute's BTT Program prepares college students for biomedical careers. Photo: Jensen Toussaint/AL DÍA News.

She noted that Wistar was at the forefront of creating an apprenticeship program for students in a non-traditional industry.

“Typically, when you think of apprenticeships, you think of manufacturing or construction, but to have an apprenticeship program in the biomedical industry is just something that is completely innovative and new,” said Secretary Berrier. 

In April 2022, Wistar was named one of among 26 recipients of a PA Smart grant — an $11 million funding effort to empower Pennsylvania workers to earn while they learn and support Pennsylvania businesses in building a pipeline of talent for various occupations. 

Among them includes the biomedical field. 

“The work that’s being done saves lives. The research that’s being done creates the new medicine, creates the new technology, creates the new vaccine, and that's life changing work,” State Senator Vincent Hughes told AL DÍA. “So, we want to make sure that we continue to support that.” 

State Senator Vincent Hughes believes the BTT program can pay huge dividends on the region's workforce. Photo: Jensen Toussaint/AL DÍA News.
State Senator Vincent Hughes believes the BTT program can pay huge dividends on the region's workforce. Photo: Jensen Toussaint/AL DÍA News.

The grant has helped Wistar expand its workforce development, cancer research, HIV research, infectious disease research and various other efforts. 

“We’re actively doing this work, and we know that our program has been effective,” Dr. Kristy Shuda McGuire, dean of biomedical studies at Wistar, told AL DÍA

Beyond the very critical research aspect, the Wistar Institute and the PA Smart grant has also helped promote a diverse workforce across the city.

The combination of receiving hands-on learning from both the classroom and the lab helps students become far more well-rounded when entering the workforce.  

The Wistar Institute is among the leading institutions in cancer research. State Senator Vincent Hughes believes the BTT program can pay huge dividends on the region's workforce. Photo: Jensen Toussaint/AL DÍA News.
The Wistar Institute is among the leading institutions in cancer research. Photo: Jensen Toussaint/AL DÍA News.

Dr. Shuda McGuire noted that the apprenticeship program is a full-time position, and a great opportunity to both develop and teach needed skills in the science industry.

“It’s so important because our employees can’t stop learning,” she said. “We’re constantly learning new things; that’s the essence of research and development.”

The skills are critically important. 

“You’re hearing a lot right now about a labor shortage, but it’s not necessarily a labor shortage,” Secretary Berrier told AL DÍA. “It’s a shortage of skilled workers for certain industries.”

It’s Berrier’s belief that programs like the BTT Program will go a long way toward solving that gap. 

There are hopes of expanding the BTT program to benefit more institutions and students in the region. The Wistar Institute is among the leading institutions in cancer research. State Senator Vincent Hughes believes the BTT program can pay huge dividends on the region's workforce. Photo: Jensen Toussaint/AL DÍA News.
There are hopes of expanding the BTT program to benefit more institutions and students in the region. Photo: Jensen Toussaint/AL DÍA News.

However, having diverse skilled workers adds just another layer to the advancement of the city’s overall workforce. 

“Diverse communities see life, see work [and] see things from different perspectives. And we're better when we have a diverse, wide-ranging view of reality because it’s more complete, it’s more comprehensive and it takes in greater viewpoints,” said Sen. Hughes. 

The goal is to expand the BTT program to more learning institutions and students throughout the region. 

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