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 – By 2025, life sciences companies in North Carolina will fill more than 5,000 new jobs as companies such as FUJIFILM Diosynth and Merck expand their facilities and other companies relocate to the state.

In an economy where trained workers are hard to find, community colleges, four-year universities and life sciences companies are redoubling their efforts to train potential employees for positions within the industry.

Rick Lawless, the North Carolina Biotechnology Center’s new workforce development director, understands the importance of aligning workforce needs with training. After spending 20 years training employees for biomanufacturing giants including Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer, Lawless left private industry to build and operate the Biomanufacturing, Training and Education Center (BTEC) at NC State.

“In many of the interviews I conducted during my time in industry, I found that candidates had limited knowledge of biology or chemistry and often knew nothing about the company, FDA regulations or GMP,” said Lawless.

Bioprocessing at BTEC.
Bioprocessing at BTEC. NC State University photo

At BTEC, he was able to play a role in creating the trained workforce he knew the industry needed.

“The knowledge and skills required for the life sciences are not typically part of a high school curriculum or part of our everyday life,” Lawless explained. “When the demand for talent is high, like it is now in the Research Triangle area, the supply of new labor can’t keep up.”

However, there are actions the state’s workforce development partners can do to expand the pool of skilled employees ready to hit the ground running in new biomanufacturing roles, he said.

“Today’s workforce development projects must reach out to new populations and provide appropriate training opportunities,” Lawless explained. “Life sciences companies must also engage during this process to ensure success.”

In his new role, he will play an active role in expanding the skilled workforce and developing partnerships with life sciences companies.

“My focus will be on new and existing projects that aim to increase industry awareness among high school students, underemployed adults in other industries, underrepresented populations and military personnel and their spouses,” Lawless said. “Tapping these sources of new talent are critical for growing the workforce.”

Finding success in biopharma after 25+ years in automotive, restaurant industries

He will also work closely with life sciences companies and academic institutions to help create and promote training programs that prepare people for jobs in the industry.

North Carolina’s decades-long commitment to developing life sciences talent has made the state a magnet for companies selecting sites for their biopharma manufacturing operations. It helped NCBiotech and a statewide coalition of public and private partner organizations and institutions receive a federal Build Back Better Regional Challenge award in December. They submitted a wide-ranging proposal entitled “Accelerating Life Science Manufacturing to Create Economic Resilience and Promote Equity in Distressed North Carolina Communities.” The phase 1 award of up to $500,000 will help academia, industry, state and local government, and other partners to work together to develop strategies that can expand, connect, scale, and promote the state’s life sciences manufacturing cluster.

Are you interested in exploring a satisfying, high-paying career in the life sciences? Visit NCBiotech’s Bio Jobs Hub.

(C) N.C. Biotech Center

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