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As job demand grows, Durham Tech launches apprenticeship program with biotech company

Aaron Sánchez-Guerra
·3 min read

As national and international life sciences and biotech companies plan to expand in Durham and create new jobs, the demand for local talent is rising.

Durham Technical Community College and the N.C. Community College System are teaming up with Durham-based KBI BioPharma to launch a pilot program to train Triangle residents for careers in the life sciences and biotech industries.

“Durham is responding to the demand for a talent pipeline for the surging life sciences sector,” said Durham Tech president J.B. Buxton in a press conference Tuesday. “Durham is responding to build an equitable and diverse talent pipeline that connects our residents to these great jobs, allowing them to support their families, thrive, building community and prosperity here in Durham and the greater Triangle region.”

The partnership with the KBI BioPharma, a contract manufacturing biopharmaceutical company, aims to grow the state’s talent pool that present and future companies in the Triangle hope to hire from. The partnership also hopes to increase career access to workers who may not have college degrees or were displaced by the coronavirus pandemic.

The three-year pilot program will focus on high school graduates and U.S. military veterans and offer up to 6,000 hours of on-the-job training in biomanufacturing, upward and downstream manufacturing, maintenance and other areas, in addition to 928 hours of relevant courses at Durham Tech.

The apprenticeship has begun to recruit candidates and is slated to launch in July of this year. Apprentices will be paid for their training and have their tuition covered by KBI.

“This initiative specifically is a great opportunity to bridge the gap and drive a sustainable workforce for the burgeoning sector and being people into our life science communities,” said Dirk Lange, president and CEO of KBI. “We’re making this investment into the future of our company and also making this investment into the future of many young adults.”

Part of the training will include support from industry professionals to mentor apprentices. Although the pilot program will begin with just four apprentices, the program hopes to expand to include 20 or more apprentices, Lange said.

Apprentices will not be under contract to be hired by KBI BioPharma but will enter as eligible candidates for positions that pay salaries of up to $45,000 a year.

Since 2018, the life sciences industry has represented around 4,600 new jobs in Durham County and a $1.65 billion investment, according to county officials. In the same period, over 8,900 jobs and $6.2 billion in investment have been represented by the industry across the Triangle.

N.C. Community Colleges President Thomas Stith III said the program is part of the statewide college system’s Apprenticeship NC program that partners with industries to train workers, and has served over 15,000 students statewide.

“Apprenticeships help North Carolina stay competitive in a marketplace that is not defined by a region and is no longer defined by our country,” said Stith. “We’re in a global marketplace and apprenticeships serves as a core to help North Carolina be competitive in that global marketplace.”