How do human resource professionals determine if a job candidate has the skills they need to perform well in a certain job?
Imagine you're working in a company and it's your job to hire people for the lab. What if you've never worked in a lab? How do you choose the best person?
Human resources personnel use a variety of methods to determine if a candidate's resume provides evidence that they have the right skills. One achievement that helps is a college degree, but it's not always enough. In some fields, companies use professional certificates or licenses as evidence that a candidate has achieved proficiency in a required skill. For example, medical doctors and teachers become certified by taking and passing board exams. Electricians demonstrate their skills by completing certificates at different levels. Accountants complete certificates to become CPAs.
Biotechnology is different. When it comes to biotech, there are few opportunities to be certified. Community colleges offer a wide variety of unfamiliar degrees and certificates. But this plethora of offerings is confusing for hiring managers at companies. They know what a Bachelors' degree is but the differences between an applied A.A.S degree, A.S. degree, A.A degree, and other varieties are difficult to understand. The certificates that community colleges devise are also confusing. How does a hiring manager at a company determine if a student from college A is as qualified as a student from college B?
Another challenge is understanding the kinds of skills colleges teach and the extent to which students practice these skills. Community colleges and Universities may teach the same content, but there is little standardization in coursework and laboratory equipment. Even in the same city, a community college may emphasize a course where students practice hands-on cell culture with mammalian cells, while a University course might have students view prepared cells under a microscope.
It becomes even more difficult for hiring managers to predict an applicant's skill level when high schools are involved. Understanding the value of dual credit programs, where students take college courses at a high school, is also a challenge. How can a company or for that matter, a college, be confident that students have attained proficiency in the right skills? How does the high school find the money to build a lab with the right kinds of equipment that compares to a community college lab? How does a high school find qualified teachers who have experience in biotech?
BACE: A professional certification for entry-level biotech
One way to determine if students have mastered the right skills, and evaluate students from multiple institutions, is to use a standardized test. It is also important to have a third-party administering and scoring the test, in order to keep the evaluations impartial.
Biotility has stepped up to assume the role of the third party. Housed in the Center of Excellence for Regenerative Health Biotechnology at the University of Florida, Biotility developed the Biotechnology Assistant Credentialing Exam (BACE) so that college and high school students would have a way of demonstrating they were ready to work in a lab. The BACE exam has a knowledge component and a practical test for laboratory skills.
Biotility also worked to make sure the BACE measures the skills and knowledge important for the biotech industry in Florida. BioFlorida, a trade organization that represents Florida biotech, recruited industry participants to review the exam and determine if it focused on the right knowledge and lab skills. With several hundred companies and research organizations as members, BioFlorida was able to determine if the BACE would be suitable for entry-level jobs in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and bioagriculture.
Why is this work important to Texas industry and students?
The BACE was designed so that students who pass the BACE would have a credential that would demonstrate their readiness for employment in entry-level biotech jobs. This benefits employers because they can rely on the credential in screening applicants and it benefits students because they have a credential recognized by industry (at least in Florida).
Implementing the BACE statewide in Florida has been a key piece in standardizing biotech training and helping students demonstrate their qualifications to employers.
Other states are also starting to look at implementing third-party credentials like the BACE.
In Texas, the AC2 Bio-Link Regional Center is beginning this process of identifying stakeholders and getting their help. Two of the major stakeholders are the Texas biotech industry and the Texas Education Agency. Representatives from the Texas biotech industry will need to be recruited to review and validate the BACE, just like the industry in Florida.
When it comes to the education systems, the AC2 Regional Bio-Link Center is working with colleges and high schools across the state to share information about BACE and compare the BACE topics with the Texas Biotechnology Skill Standards. Texas community colleges and high schools already use the Texas skill standards in the biotechnology courses that make up the level one certificate. Aligning the skill standards with the BACE topics ensures that students who finish the level one certificate will have a better chance of passing the BACE and also meeting the needs of industry. Even if these students continue their education at a 4-year school or University, as many high school students do, they will be better equipped to get jobs in college laboratories in Texas or in other states.
How do I know this? Graduates from the LASA Academy in Austin have demonstrated the value of the level one certificate and passing the BACE --they can vouch for the value of both! Now we just have to get the rest of Texas on board.
Implementing the BACE in Texas will help demonstrate that students who pass are well qualified and provide evidence that the Texas biotech programs are emphasizing the knowledge and skills needed by Texas industry.
By Linnea Fletcher, Ph.D.  and Sandra Porter Ph.D. 
To learn more about credentialing and the BACE, visit Biotility
 Austin Community College, Texas
 Digital World Biology, Washington