NCBiotech program wins federal grant to expand biopharma job opportunities for NC’s military community

An initiative connecting military talent with job opportunities in North Carolina’s growing biopharmaceutical manufacturing industry will expand, thanks to a new federal grant.

The two-year, $825,000 grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, will be used to increase access to job training, internships and referrals across the state through the Military Outreach and Veterans Engagement (MOVE) initiative, launched in 2019 by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. 

The initiative places transitioning service members who are separating from service, honorably discharged veterans, and military spouses into biopharma manufacturing training and internship programs, ultimately paving the way for full-time positions in the life sciences industry.

North Carolina has the third largest military footprint in the nation with about 130,000 active-duty service members. The state also has one of the nation’s largest concentrations of biopharmaceutical manufacturing plants - with the Research Triangle ranked as the top region in the country for biomanufacturing - requiring a qualified workforce across all levels of the industry.   

MOVE “connects the dots on those two things,” said Jacob Key, a 20-year Retired U.S. Army Master Sergeant who manages the initiative at NCBiotech. 

A good match

The military community is particularly well suited for jobs in biopharmaceutical manufacturing, a highly regulated industry that requires rigorous attention to detail in a controlled environment, Key said.

“The soft skills learned in the military – strict adherence to following procedures, drive to achieve results, and problem-solving skills – are highly valued,” said Nathaniel Crump, an Army veteran who leveraged MOVE to land a job with Pfizer in Sanford. 

Crump, who served 12 years at Fort Liberty (formerly Fort Bragg) in Fayetteville, took BioWork at Central Carolina Community College in Sanford. 

BioWork is a 136-hour, non-credit certificate course that teaches students the foundational skills needed to begin a career as a process technician for a biotechnology, pharmaceutical, or chemical manufacturing company. It is offered at 13 community colleges across the state.

The BioWork course, coupled with his military experience, prepared Crump for a warehouse associate position at Pfizer, and only 16 months later he became a bioprocess technician involved in making life-saving gene therapy products. 

Schulz
Army veteran Jeremy Schulz, now at Pfizer.

“Completing the BioWork certification program through my military transition into the civilian sector was instrumental, as all the work I was performing became crystal clear,” Crump said. “I found through my BioWork training that biopharma manufacturing is where I want to be in my civilian career. I stepped outside of my comfort zone and would not have changed a thing.”

Another Army veteran from Fort Liberty, Jeremy Schulz, is also a bioprocess technician at Pfizer. He was led to the job by a MOVE internship after participating in a “Manufacturing Day” at the company that focused on improving veteran hiring.

“The site tour resonated with me as to what I was looking for in an employer and an industry with a meaningful purpose,” Shulz recalled. “Thankfully, Pfizer felt strong about the soft skills I possessed as a soldier, such as attention to detail, teamwork and following standard operating procedures. With the help of NCBiotech and everyone at Pfizer, I was able to build a network that would help me find my current job in chemistry manufacturing.”

A third Fort Liberty Army veteran, Connor Reardon, landed his job as a bioprocess technician at Pfizer after completing BioWork at Central Carolina Community College.

Reardon
Army veteran Connor Reardon, now at Pfizer,

“Being that I was new to this area of work, my network was extremely limited,” he recalled. “After countless job applications yielded limited results, the NCBiotech MOVE team reached out to me, and within a few days, I had my first job interview at Pfizer. I am now enjoying my newfound purpose as a bioprocess technician, thanks to the phenomenal staff at Central Carolina Community College and the NCBiotech MOVE team.”

MOVE to include three more military bases

With the new grant funding, the MOVE initiative will replicate its initial efforts at Fort Liberty at three more military bases in the state – Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.

“As we engage those bases, we will also get more industry partners and community colleges involved,” Key said.

A major emphasis of the expanded work will be to raise awareness in military communities about the good career opportunities available in biopharmaceutical manufacturing. Most veterans Key speaks with “have no idea about the sector and its opportunities,” he said.

North Carolina is a global life sciences leader with more than 830 companies statewide. More than 108 of these companies operate biopharmaceutical manufacturing sites, employing over 32,000 people. This sector is projected to create an additional 8,000 new jobs in the state between 2022 and 2026. 

Depending on position, education and experience, entry-level salaries range from $45,000 to $70,000, with an average salary of $102,000 across all positions and levels.

About 720,000 veterans live in North Carolina, and 20,000 service members separate from the state’s military bases each year, many of them needing second careers. About 40 percent of those leaving the military want to remain in the state because of family roots or other factors, Key said.

“We want more of those amazing people to step into life sciences careers,” he said.

Anyone in the military community interested in applying to MOVE can complete a simple online application.
 

Barry Teater, NCBiotech Writer
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