Is Education Making a Comeback?

The electronics industry as a whole has seen declining numbers of students enrolling in classes for years. The information technology (IT) sector has promoted itself well and has swayed many young minds to pursue software skills instead of skills in the more hands-on technical fields. As a result, many technical classes have been downsized or eliminated. The reality is that now there are too few trained technicians to fill all the available jobs. We have seen the same conditions in the biomedical technology profession. When at one time an employer could advertise and expect to find a candidate with at least an associate’s degree in biomedical electronics (or technology), now it’s difficult to find someone with any type of basic electronics background.

The industry, educators, and employers have taken notice of this lower standard and are concerned. At the Service & Retail Convention (SRC) held in Las Vegas in February, special attention was focused generally on technical education and specifically on biomedical education.

Independent and original equipment manufacturer service providers, educators, and curriculum developers, such as ETA International and the North American Retail Dealers Association, sponsored the convention. Although the overall educational focus was on updating current curriculums, there was a strong interest in adding a new course on biomedical technology. Why was the interest so strong? One reason was that a couple of the colleges had been contacted by medical-equipment manufacturers because new assembly plants were moving into the colleges’ areas and needed biomedically educated technicians.

Another leading source of interest was from schools currently offering both nursing and technology programs that have foreseen the need for more biomeds as the patient population ages.

The seminar on biomedical curriculum was well attended by both instructors and students from across the country, and their questions focused on the blend of medical and technical educational requirements needed by today’s biomedical technician.

Discussion also addressed the need for a unified classification for these technicians. Employers who have placed an ad on a job-search Web site have found the process complicated due to the myriad of job titles used, such as biomedical technician, biomedical electronics technician, field service technician, clinical engineering technician, medical equipment repairer, medical equipment technician, and medical electronics technician, to name a few.

The educators are not the only parties interested in reviving the biomedical industry. One of the largest independent biomedical service organizations has entered into an agreement with Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis to train its employees across the country via the university’s online biomedical classes. This arrangement speaks volumes about the employer and the state of the workforce. Employers have realized that not enough technicians are available, and to their credit they are willing to properly educate their own technicians.

DeVry University, recognized as a top technical university, has started a biomedical engineering department and has the potential to become one of the top biomedical educators, due to its many locations, financial resources, and name recognition.

Existing biomedical programs have also taken a lead in revising their curriculum. The Wisconsin Technical College System is currently surveying the marketplace for employment expansion and for input on curriculum compatibility with employee needs and expectations.

All of this focus on biomedical education is not only positive for tomorrow’s technicians, but it presents today’s biomeds with opportunities to complete their own education. Online classes are ideal for the adult student. These courses are also very good tools for those technicians who still need certification and need the structure of a class to fully commit to studying. Those technicians who have attained a bachelor’s degree (or above) may be asked to serve on course-development committees or may be offered teaching positions.

If the enthusiasm of the SRC convention is any indication of the rest of the academic community, biomedical technology may be entering a renaissance period. With the retirement of the current generation of biomeds in sight, the next generation of highly trained biomeds can look forward to fabulous opportunities, great jobs, and financial rewards, which we can only wish for. As the band Timbuk 3 sang in the 1980s, “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.” 24×7

Glen Wolfe, CBET, CET, is employed by Trace Services Inc, Elk Grove Village, Ill.