Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Emerging jobs elevate higher education's selection of courses: collegesendeavor to fill demand for more complex skills.(WORK FORCE).

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San Diego universities and colleges are responding to major changes in the economy by creating new programs of study designed to help students qualify for jobs that likely didn't exist a few years ago.

Among these are the University of San Diego's Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science, which is offering courses on information technology to executive-level nurses and those seeking a master's degree in nursing.

Ongoing efforts to convert written personal medical records into digital form is driving the need for trained medical clinicians to become knowledgeable about IT systems so they can set up the new record systems correctly, said Jonathon Mack, a teacher at the Hahn school.

In the near future executive-level nurses will be making key decisions such as how the electronic medical records are formatted, how the data is entered, and what technology vendors to select for the equipment and maintenance of patients' personal medical records, Mack said.

"Nurses at this level will have to make decisions around these systems," Mack said. "For example, nursing directors will be making decisions on which vendors to choose that provide these systems, and the layout of the records."

Blending Fields of Study

At San Diego State University, a cross-discipline graduate program called bio-informatics is aimed at students coming from biology, chemistry, computer science, mathematics and engineering. The idea is that many of the new jobs being created in biotech research and industry, particularly those involving the analysis of vast amounts of data, require knowledge of several types of study.

According to a description of the program on its Web site, there is an acute need for graduates who are familiar with cutting-edge biological and clinical problems and have skills to apply computing and mathematical techniques to solve them.

Faramarz Valafar, the program's director, said when the college launched the bioinformatics program two years ago, it was one of only three in the state, with the others at Stanford University and UC Davis.

The bioinformatics program is drawing students and professionals from a variety of fields, and include several doctors, he said.

The essence of SDSU's program is cross-training people from one discipline so they are familiar with concepts, terminology and issues of another discipline. For example, those coming from a computer science background would be learning about medicine and biology, Valafar said.


The plan in the near future is to offer the courses in conjunction with the UC San Diego School of Medicine, he said.

More Choices for New Careers

Working professionals who are seeking to improve their skills or learn new ones in order to make a career change can find plenty of options at UCSD's Extension.

Hugo Villar, director of science and technology at the college, said a certificate program for health care information technology is linked to the pending massive conversion of medical health records to digital form. A certificate program in the area launched last fall was funded from a $400,000 federal grant aimed at helping unemployed health care workers to get the skills they need to qualify for some of the jobs being created, said Villar.


Potential positions include health care integration engineer, health care systems analyst, clinical information technology consultant, and technology support specialist.

Two other areas that UCSD Extension is offering courses aimed at filling new economy jobs are data mining, or the analysis of large databases to extract certain types of information, and biostatistics, used in the analysis of clinical data. The latter program could be applied to jobs in the life sciences and pharmaceuticals industries, medical devices and life insurance fields.

SDSU also operates a College of Extended Studies that offers many courses and programs geared to helping people get the necessary skills to qualify for a host of newly created jobs, said Joe Shapiro, dean of the college.



"We have four different certificate programs alone that are centered on sustainability and green home building," Shapiro said.

Training for Building to Biotech

One program for green home performance contractor is aimed at workers involved in building or certifying homes as meeting certain alternative energy standards as specified by the Building Performance Institute Inc. BPI is the accepted national credentialing agency for the green home building industry, and prepares students for a written and field exam by BPI.

SDSU is also offering several programs through both its College of Sciences and College of Extended Studies geared to filling the new jobs in the biotechnology area. Among these are a range of graduate-level programs, including regulatory affairs compliance, computational science, and medical physics, Shapiro said.

In addition, a federal jobs grant to SDSU as the lead provider is funding a slew of new programs aimed at retraining people who have been unemployed or underemployed for an extended period, he said. Among these are programs for medical laboratory technician, clinical lab scientist, and a life sciences emersion program for the biotechnology industry that is set to begin in the spring.

Preparing both undergraduate and graduate students for a career in the local biotechnology industry is a focus at Cal State San Marcos, but with a clear recognition of how the industry here operates, said Al Kern, director of the school's biotechnology programs.

"We're in a town with about 500 biotech and biopharmaceutical companies, but 90 percent of them have less than 50 employees so you may be working in a lab in the morning, but may have to help out at a business development meeting in the afternoon," Kern said.

Some six years ago, CSUSM started a certificate program in biotechnology that is geared to folks who have some science background or prerequisites, but need more hands-on, lab-intensive education, he said.

Offering Another Degree

Last fall, the school launched a master's degree in biotechnology aimed at people "who want to work in the life sciences industry, but don't want to spend six years to get a Ph.D.," Kern said.

"Our program is a blend of science, M.B.A. business courses, and real-world exposure through an internship," he said.

Most of the students are already working full time and are enrolled to improve their current job status or move into a new one, Kern said.

"About 65 percent are holding down full-time jobs, and they recognize that they need an advanced degree to move up, or additional exposure to move sideways," he said.

Source Citation
Allen, Mike. "Emerging jobs elevate higher education's selection of courses: colleges endeavor to fill demand for more complex skills." San Diego Business Journal 31.34 (2010): 15+. General OneFile. Web. 29 Sept. 2010.
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