Lessons Learned From a Former Biotech Training Manager

Life science organizations face unique training and development challenges. The subject matter is highly technical, there are many different roles to train and the industry is highly regulated. While some learning strategies cross over well from other industries, life science trainers know all too well that what works in retail or hospitality may not transfer to their world.

To explore these challenges in greater depth, I interviewed Dennis Carroll, Senior Learning Designer here at Bottom-Line Performance. Dennis has seven years of training, learning development, project management and staff management experience in the life sciences. Specifically, he was a Global Training Manager for Envigo RMS, Inc – a pharmaceutical and biotechnology research company. His experience gives him a unique perspective on the day-to-day challenges life science companies face and how they overcome these challenges to deliver effective training.

How did you end up in a training role at Envigo?

I worked in laboratory animal science at another organization right after I finished my undergrad in biology. I moved up from a contract position to a full-time position in the lab animal science training group. My new manager, David, oversaw all of the technical departments in the company’s lab animal services group. I eventually took over  more management responsibility (Controlled Substances, New Hires, etc). David left to join Envigo as a global director, and asked me to join him in the newly created role as global training manager.

What knowledge or skills did learners at Envigo need to have to be successful in their jobs?

The scope of the training group was predominantly focused on the operations teams – the folks who bred rodents used in research applications, and maintained the facilities. The biggest focus was on process-related training. There were many QA/QC forms to be trained against, and little infrastructure surrounding how folks would be trained. Most learners were left with two options: read dense SOPs and/or work with a more experienced person side-by-side.

What challenges did you face when trying to help these learners build the necessary knowledge/skills?

The organization is global. The biggest challenge there is designing training that meets all of the various national laws associated with laboratory animal production. The second biggest challenge is implementation: the learners typically worked within a facility for 8+ hours/day with no access to the internet; there were few people designated as trainers; and time was very limited for onboarding and ongoing training.

What was the most rewarding thing about your job as a training manager?

Getting to meet people from all over the globe. Being able to come in, hear their concerns, and work with them to design and develop solutions that would meet their needs.

What methods did you use to deliver training at Envigo? And do you feel like those methods were effective?

We developed an onboarding instructor-led training (ILT), delivered by ‘regional trainers’ (myself and two others hired for the role), that proved to be effective in reducing turnover at the sites in which it was delivered. We chose those sites specifically for their high levels of turnover, and were able to demonstrate a reduction in that key indicator. We also developed a global biosecurity training, designed for leaders in the organization. This was extremely successful in creating lateral communication across sites, and getting learners to troubleshoot biosecurity concerns within their facilities.

Other options we pursued included SOPs/work instructions deliverable via mobile device (iPad for the most part), and a video onboarding series.

In your experience, what are some unique challenges for trainers at a biotech or life science company versus trainers in other industries?

The roles are extremely technical. It’s hard to find that unicorn who can be effective both in life sciences and in learning design, development, and implementation. Another challenge is how spread out most life science groups are. Because of the level of skill set specificity for each group, it’s very difficult to create effective learning solutions that apply to all groups equally.

How has your life science and biotech background helped you in your role as a Senior Learning Designer at BLP?

Many of our clients are in this type of field. The benefits I’ve realized include being able to speak easily and fluently with senior-level client managers about their work and know how to communicate with them succinctly and to the point.

Think back to when you were first starting out in a training role. If you could give your former self advice, what would you say?

Get buy-in early and often. From the organizational leadership to the learners themselves. Having everyone participate in learning design and development makes the learning solution not only more effective, but usually leads to having more resources available and fewer roadblocks in development.


Come and See Us at LTEN 2017

Bottom-Line Performance will be speaking and exhibiting again at the 2017 LTEN Conference and Expo. Join us for one of our sessions or come say hello at booth 407!

The Life Sciences Trainers & Educators Network (www.L-TEN.org) is the only 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the professional goals of trainers and educators in the life sciences by providing the clarity, community and career resources needed to excel in leadership and learning. Founded in 1971, LTEN has grown to over 1,700 individual members who work in pharmaceutical, biotech, medical device and diagnostic companies.