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Using our region's strengths: Connecting with San Diego’s STEM community to drive regional outcomes

Published on 15th May 2018

In 2014, the San Diego Workforce Partnership (SDWP) identified five Priority Sectors on which San Diego County should direct its workforce development efforts. SDWP identified and prioritized these sectors for workforce development because of their significant employment growth rates, strong wages and number of job openings. SDWP's research team published extensive reports on these sectors in 2014, and updated their research in the fall of 2017.

One of the region's top Priority Sectors according to this research is life sciences. Interestingly, however, in 2014 SDWP already had almost 10 years of experience providing workforce development in San Diego's rich life sciences sector through the Life Sciences Summer Institute (LSSI) for high school students.

The updated research published by SDWP in 2017 shows that since 2006, life sciences employment has seen continuous growth in San Diego county and the state of California. The growth has been quicker in San Diego, with 30 percent growth since 2006 as compared to 18 percent in the state of California. SDWP was able to anticipate this growth and this need for talent in the life sciences sector through internal research and was able to create a life sciences internship program for young adults a full year before this growth period began.

Since the inception of this program in 2005, LSSI has served 560 future scientists and researchers as they take the first steps towards actualizing their career aspirations. This is a rigorous program that truly prepares students for what the working world will be like for them in the life sciences. LSSI participants work one-on-one with a researcher on real-world problems, learning directly from their research and methods. This is an incredible opportunity to gain mentorship and hands-on experience and is therefore an extremely competitive program. Our acceptance rate falls between 10 and 20 percent each year.

San Diego is ranked as one of the top five life sciences regions in the U.S., with more than 80 research institutions in the county. San Diego county's students, therefore, are in a somewhat unique position with many resources in the sector available to them, but at the same time with much competition for those resources. This is especially true as these students graduate high school and continue on to compete for openings at San Diego's elite research universities against students from all over the world.

LSSI gives program participants a competitive edge as they begin their careers, and the program serves exclusively San Diego County students. Our focus on the San Diego region allows us to connect the young adults in our own community to the resources our county has to offer. The program opens with an intensive pre-internship Bootcamp hosted in the laboratories of San Diego Miramar College and Grossmont College during which students are exposed to lab practices and safety procedures. This Bootcamp week is followed by a seven-week paid internship during which each intern works one-on-one with a researcher, who serves as a mentor and guide. The intern works directly with his or her mentor on their mentor's research project.

LSSI's closest partners are the Salk Research Institute, the Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) and UCSD Research Scholars. This is the core group of institutes we work with, and they provide approximately 30 of 50 internships each year between the three of them. Other institutes we work with include Pfizer, the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology (LIAI) and BioLabs. LSSI has worked with over 30 institutes throughout the county since 2005 and continues to explore ways to connect more institutes to this incredible opportunity to educate and mentor San Diego’s next generation of scientists.

By creating valuable programming in San Diego's Priority Sectors like life sciences, SDWP is able to train San Diego's workforce to fill the jobs that are crucial in our region, that make San Diego the community it is. We are training members of our community to stay in our region and contribute to our economy by prioritizing sectors like the life sciences with the strongest wages and growth. By focusing on our region's strengths, we are better able to find and create opportunities for all San Diegans in the workforce.