Photo Credit: Durham Tech CC

KBI, Durham Tech Launch Workforce Training Apprenticeship Program

Published May 10, 2021

Four lucky Durham Technical Community College students will soon pioneer a bold new apprenticeship program with Durham-based KBI Biopharma designed to groom more workers for pharmaceutical manufacturing.

The apprenticeship program announced today opens a Triangle-based jobs development partnership that is expected to serve as a model for the North Carolina Community College System’s statewide ApprenticeshipNC Program.

The project also targets military veterans who might not recognize they have skills and experience that can transfer well into job openings in the life sciences – especially in biopharmaceutical manufacturing.

KBI Biopharma is a biopharmaceutical contract development manufacturing organization (CDMO) that provides accelerated drug development and biomanufacturing services to help pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies globally advance their vaccine and therapeutic programs. It’s an affiliate company of JSR Life Sciences, a business unit of Tokyo-based JSR Corp.

KBI located in Durham in 2003 with the help of a startup loan from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. The company became increasingly committed to the apprenticeship partnership since it embarked last year on building a $150 million manufacturing facility near Research Triangle Park that will employ more than 200 people in operations and quality assurance. The 140,000-square-foot facility should be operational by the first quarter of 2022.

KBI President and CEO Dirk Lange and community college leaders joined in a news conference at Durham Tech to outline the plans to offer apprenticeships to graduating high school seniors and military veterans. The apprenticeship program aims to bolster a diverse talent pipeline in the biotechnology field and increase access to underutilized labor pools.

Lange was joined at the news conference by Durham Tech President J.B. Buxton and North Carolina Community College System President Thomas Stith III.

The apprenticeship program aims to close the skill gap in the life sciences industry by offering on-the-job training at KBI and related instruction at Durham Tech.

“Durham Tech is committed to creating a diverse talent pipeline that puts local residents in good-paying careers in the life sciences sector. We’re proud to partner with KBI BioPharma in this effort and believe this is a model for public-private partnerships,” Buxton said.

Through the program, KBI will initially offer four apprenticeships at KBI’s Durham facilities. The apprenticeship will last approximately three years, and KBI will offer some 5,000 to 6,000 hours of on-the-job training in manufacturing, with short-term training assignments in other areas, including warehousing operations and logistics, maintenance, and other manufacturing areas. Apprentices who complete this program will earn an Associate of Science degree from Durham Tech and credentials from the U.S. Department of Labor. They are also expected to earn initial incomes of $35,000 to $45,000 a year while the company pays their tuition, said Lange.
“I am excited to work with Durham Tech on this program, which addresses a fundamental challenge for our industry: building a sustainable pipeline for our future workforce, while creating the opportunity to kickstart the career of young talent,” said Lange. “At KBI, we see education as a way to enable possibilities and progress through on-the-job learning. We’re proud to partner with Durham Tech, and look forward to the opportunity to grow lifelong careers in this area and develop and retain highly talented team members for KBI Biopharma.”

He said he expects by the second year of the program it could include 10 to 20 apprenticeships. He said it could eventually even serve as a pilot program for community colleges in other states besides North Carolina.
The state System’s ApprenticeshipNC program manages apprenticeship opportunities at local community colleges and looks to connect employers to prospective apprentices. 
“Today’s announcement demonstrates the strength in partnerships that our 58 community colleges have with business and industry around the state,” said Stith. “Providing registered apprenticeship programs helps business and industry create their own skilled workforce and North Carolina stay competitive in the marketplace.”

During a roundtable discussion with state and local leaders before the news conference Tuesday, Buxton laid out the talent needs facing the life sciences industry and Durham Tech’s plan to invest in bolstering a diverse talent pipeline for the future. 
Durham Tech is a key member of the BULLS Initiative, a public-private consortium aimed at filling the growing workforce needs of area life sciences companies, and maintaining Durham’s position as a leader in the field.

About KBI Biopharma, Inc.

KBI Biopharma provides process development and clinical and commercial cGMP manufacturing services for mammalian, microbial, and cell therapy programs to some 300 customers. Besides its headquarter locations in Durham and RTP, it has facilities in Boulder and Louisville Colorado, The Woodlands, Texas, and Leuven, Belgium.