Editor’s note: Each Wednesday, WRAL TechWire features a story highlighting the NC Bio Jobs Hub initiative. Go to the Bio Jobs Hub for more stories and info on life sciences job opportunities made possible by NC’s workforce training initiatives.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – When Tara Cameron decided she wanted to transition from her career as a certified nursing assistant into a new position in the medical field, she turned to colleagues and friends. Overwhelmingly, they recommended she check out Wake Tech’s BioWork certificate program.

Today, her career looks different than it did 20 years ago, but as a downstream, or purification, technician at FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies in Morrisville, she has stayed true to her healthcare roots.

Tara Cameron (Photo via NC Biotech Center)

“Working with my elderly residents day-to-day, I saw the importance of medicine in their lives,” said Cameron. “When I decided to change careers, I knew I wanted to stay in healthcare. My friends and colleagues talked a lot about the programs at Wake Tech, which is where I learned about the BioWork program and jobs in biomanufacturing.”

The BioWork certificate is earned through a 12-week program offered at 11 community colleges across the state. The program teaches students the foundational skills for a career as a process technician for biotechnology, pharmaceutical or chemical manufacturing companies.

The part of the program Cameron enjoyed the most was learning about the importance of standard operating procedures (commonly referred to as SOPs in the biopharmaceutical industry).

“I enjoyed working in the lab the most,” said Cameron. “This is where I learned about SOPs. They are similar to a recipe that you need to follow step-by-step.”

Today as a downstream tech at FUJIFILM Diosynth, Cameron is part of the biomanufacturing team responsible for the purification of biological molecules such as recombinant proteins, using filtration and chromatography.

This is not her first position in biomanufacturing, however. Prior to her current position, she had also gained on-the-job experience at Merck.

Interest in BioWork program grows

At Wake Tech, students are filling up the BioWork certificate courses. According to its website, all BioWork courses for the fall semester are full, but the school is in the process of hiring an additional instructor.

According to Mike Morgan, Wake Tech’s workforce continuing education BioWork program director, 180 students receive the certificate each year.

In addition to offering the certificate program, the school holds in-person and virtual job fairs to connect students with life science and staffing companies.

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March of 2020, we have had very successful virtual career fairs organized by NC BioNetwork,” said Morgan. “We have been doing one of these each spring, summer and fall since April 2020.”

For her part, Cameron recommends those interested in making a career change check out the program.

“I would tell others to try the BioWork program because there are vast opportunities, and the pays is very competitive,” she said. “You can always find a job.”

(C) N.C. Biotech Center