Life Sciences Apprenticeships Planned for North Carolina

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A new industrial consortium led by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center will develop apprenticeships in the life sciences to strengthen workforce preparedness.

“The goal is to provide clear pathways to training programs and careers in the life sciences to more high school students, underemployed high school graduates, military veterans, and transitioning military personnel and their spouses,” said Rick Lawless, workforce development director for the Biotech Center. “Tremendous career opportunities are available for people throughout North Carolina, and those with the right training will have an advantage.” 

FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies, Lilly, Pfizer, Novartis Gene Therapies, and Merck are among the major pharmas in the Research Triangle region have signed on as charter members of the North Carolina Life Sciences Apprenticeship Consortium. Additional companies are being recruited to join the consortium, Lawless said.

While a few North Carolina life sciences companies including KBI Biopharma have implemented apprenticeship programs, the consortium will provide support to expand the number of apprenticeship opportunities in the state. The consortium will create standards for job competencies, promote apprenticeship opportunities to nontraditional populations, and sponsor mass recruiting events.

The charter companies will collaborate in the coming months to develop their own Registered Apprenticeship Programs (RAPs). ApprenticeshipNC, a program of the state community colleges, oversees the approval of all RAPs on behalf of the U.S. Department of Labor. Each RAP must consist of supervised on-the-job training, classroom learning, and a standard wage scale.

Companies can use internal classroom training and/or courses offered by community colleges to meet the related instruction requirement, Lawless said. Some RAPs may lead to an associate degree, while others may not. All apprentices earn a portable, nationally recognized credential upon completion of the program.

The consortium will start promoting the new RAPs this fall and will sponsor pre-apprenticeships in spring 2023. Recruiting for new apprentices will occur from May to June 2023.

Initial plans include using the BioWork certificate program as a pre-apprenticeship to help assess each candidate’s likelihood of success in an apprenticeship program. BioWork is a 136-hour, non-credit certificate course offered at 10 community colleges throughout the state that teaches the foundational skills desired by life sciences companies.

As part of the new apprenticeship program, the National Institute for Innovation and Technology (NIIT) will provide access to its state-of-the-art National Talent Hub, a portal developed with the support of the National Science Foundation.

The National Talent Hub is designed to connect individuals to potential careers and the education and training required to succeed. The consortium will use the portal to match the best candidates to posted apprenticeships and track training throughout the pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship stages.

Companies trying to fill permanent positions can also use the system to identify potential employees by reviewing training profiles and job competencies.

The Biotech Center and several partners recently submitted a funding proposal for Phase 2 of the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge. The proposal encompasses several independent but integrated projects led by statewide coalition partners, including a request to fund pre-apprenticeships, as well as resources to help promote the new apprenticeships, run recruiting events, and grow the consortium beyond the Research Triangle region. This funding would help accelerate the consortium’s implementation plan.

Companies interested in joining the North Carolina Life Sciences Apprenticeship Consortium should contact Lawless at rick_lawless@ncbiotech.org.

Barry Teater, NCBiotech Writer
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