Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Life sciences manufacturing: Expanding worker training across North Carolina

Editor’s note: The following was written by Doug Edgeton, president and CEO of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.

Offering a glimpse into the future of North Carolina’s rapidly expanding life sciences economy, a two-week course at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke is preparing students for careers in bioprocessing or making new and useful products from a living source.

Another short training course on a college campus might sound routine. This one, however, is different if you step back and consider its origins, who it’s designed to help, and what impact it could have on life sciences and economic development for years to come.

The UNC Pembroke course bears the imprint of a statewide effort spurred by a $25 million Build Back Better Regional Challenge grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. Awarded in 2022 to the Accelerate NC – Life Sciences Manufacturing coalition, led by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, the grant is poised to strengthen the state’s manufacturing workforce in the life sciences fields. More than 75,000 North Carolinians are employed in the 830 companies and organizations in life sciences, making it one of the most thriving sectors of our state’s growing economy.

It’s imperative that we expand beyond the state’s well-known research and manufacturing hubs, creating career pathways for underrepresented populations beyond the research triangle and major urban areas. Funds from the Build Back Better Regional Challenge grant are being used to increase awareness of, access to, and availability of life sciences manufacturing training in 79 of the state’s 100 counties – including many in rural and economically distressed areas.

As Accelerate NC builds momentum, it is playing an essential role in helping expand and diversity the talent pipeline for biomanufacturing and provide good-paying jobs to people who may not have ever heard of or thought they could be a part of the life sciences. Drawing on the labor pool in rural and historically underrepresented areas is critical to helping fill the predicted 8,000 more jobs at biopharma manufacturing sites in North Carolina that are expected to be created by the end of 2026. 

Which is why the two-week course at UNC Pembroke is so important. It started the workforce diversification component of Accelerate NC as from Jan. 22 to Feb. 2, up to 12 participants were exposed to hands-on bioprocessing training that’s the first of its kind in southeastern North Carolina.

Comprehensive Effort

Accelerate NC is providing one of the most significant boosts to life sciences that North Carolina has seen in recent years.

Expanded and equitable training is a major focus of the grant. North Carolina Central University, home to the Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise (BRITE) worked closely with UNC Pembroke, the state’s sole Historically American Indian University, to establish the school as the first to offer the new bioprocessing training. Other HBCU coalition members, including Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, Livingstone College, Saint Augustine’s University, and Winston-Salem State University, are expected to launch similar trainings during 2024.

Another component, led by the North Carolina Community College System, is designed to boost the number of trained workers in life sciences manufacturing through the BioBetter project that includes 10 community colleges. Centered around the well-recognized BioWork certificate program, 10 colleges are expanding their targeted community outreach, adding additional faculty to teach BioWork and related biotechnology training courses, adding virtual reality and other digital training elements, and engaging the Hispanic/LatinX community across the state.

The third major element is community engagement. Led by NCBiotech, this multifaceted element has four components, including ambassador and apprenticeship programs, the NCGrads2Work program in Pitt County, and the BULLS life sciences academy in Durham, each with unique ways to increase access and awareness around life sciences careers and training programs and connect more North Carolinians to life sciences jobs and careers. The goal is to achieve 2,500 engagements to generate awareness for training and job opportunities among rural and underrepresented populations. 

Together, these efforts make up a comprehensive program that will greatly strengthen and diversify the talent pool and pay dividends to the state’s life sciences sector for years to come.

Collaboration is Key

Accelerate NC is the latest of many concerted efforts over the years to build the state’s life sciences talent pipeline and enhance our leadership position in biomanufacturing. If there’s a common thread between these initiatives, it’s collaboration. Only when stakeholders work together across the full life sciences ecosystem can we develop and maintain a workforce that’s ready to take on global challenges.

NCBiotech is pleased to have a leading role working alongside many partners, including colleges and universities, community colleges, state government and life sciences companies to advance the state’s workforce and ensure that North Carolina remains a prime location for life sciences companies.

The industry’s $88 billion impact on North Carolina must be supported so that companies already here – and those considering coming – have confidence that the state is responding to their needs for job-ready talent.

For 40 years, sharing the stories of North Carolina's dynamic business community.

Related Articles