Sunny Schwartz confirmed my conclusions drawn from three years of reading biotechnology job postings for chemical process engineers — namely, that the biotechnology companies are looking for specific skills, not talent (“A worker shortage for life sciences,” Opinion, Jan. 6). Schwartz also characterized hiring talented people from outside of biotech as a “creative” solution. I would like to point out that the people who built and ran Polaroid’s successful instant photography business did so without prior instant photography experience. Instant photography was not being done anywhere else. In the 1960s, for the same reason, the NASA engineers who sent men to the moon started with little experience in building spaceflight vehicles.

In response to Sputnik, high schools emphasized math and science to prepare students for future careers where they would invent new technologies. If the biotech industry is serious about being innovative, it would do well to look for people who have demonstrated the ability to move into a new field and quickly make significant contributions. Rather than telling prospective hires which skills they need to have, ask them which skills they bring that would be of use in biotechnology.


James W. Slack