RESEARCH RIANGLE PARK – Veterans and military members transitioning out of their time in service have skills and experiences that many employers are searching for.

Life sciences companies have world-class manufacturing centers that need to be staffed with an experienced, reliable, detail-oriented workforce.

So why not match up the two?

That’s the thinking behind Military Outreach and Veterans Engagement, or MOVE, a statewide program launched in 2019 by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. The program places veterans, service members who are leaving and transitioning to new careers, and military spouses into biopharma training programs – ultimately paving the way for full-time positions in the life sciences industry.

MOVE has received a boost this year with the addition of a full-time coordinator. Jacob Key, a 20-year Army Retired Master Sergeant, joined NCBiotech as an intern through the Career Skills Program affiliated with Fort Liberty. In August, he was named program manager for MOVE.

“We envision this as an ongoing training pipeline for the biopharma manufacturing industry,” Key said. “We don’t promise anyone a job, but they enter our pipeline and we get them trained to where they can apply with confidence to any company within our network to enter the industry.”

Internships and On-the-Job Training

Veterans, transitioning service members and military spouses have two paths they can take. One is by applying for NCBiotech’s BioWork Job Training Program. Those chosen for the program then train through one of the state’s 12 community colleges – soon to be 13 – that offer life sciences manufacturing training.

The second path is an on-the-job training internship program offered in partnership with Fort Liberty that places participants directly with Pfizer Inc.’s operations in Sanford. Plans call for the program to expand to two additional biopharma manufacturing companies in the state.

Participants don’t need life sciences experience. Instead, biopharma manufacturing employers are looking for applicable soft skills learned through military service, Key said, such as the ability to work well in a controlled environment in a highly regulated industry. Roles that employers are seeking to fill include skilled process technicians and warehouse associates.

“Employers recognize the talent the military community can bring to the industry,” he said. “These leaders understand paying attention to detail. They understand following standard operating procedures. They’re coachable, they’re teachable and a resilient population.”

Growing Opportunity in North Carolina

Developing MOVE into a robust program has been years in the making. NCBiotech leaders, including Bill Bullock, senior vice president of economic development and statewide operations; Laura Rowley, vice president of life sciences economic development; Sara Imhof, senior director of integration on the Focused Initiative Team, Hee-Sook Song, Workforce Development Director, and former staffer Elizabeth Ellis have worked to establish relationships with the military community, community colleges and employers, Key said.

With about 720,000 veterans living in the state, and with a strong life sciences footprint – more than 800 companies employing 75,000 people – North Carolina is fertile ground for a program that bridges the gap between veterans and industry.

Key tells of one veteran who recently started a full-time job at Pfizer following a BioWork job training course at Central Carolina Community College. An Army paratrooper at Fort Liberty, he had majored in biology and wanted to enter the life sciences industry to play a role in making medications that help patients.

“I spoke to him two or three weeks ago, and he absolutely loves it. They’re very supportive of the military community.”

MOVE Key award
The North Carolina National Guard (NCNG) Employment Center celebrated its 4,000th job placement at a ceremony at the NCNG Joint Force Headquarters on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023. Jacob Key, a retired Master Sergeant and now Program Manager for NCBiotech, middle, was congratulated by Brigadier General Jeffrey Copeland, Assistant Adjutant General, far left; Keith Warzon, the NCNG Employment Center’s director, middle left; and Hee-Sook Song, Workforce Development Director with NCBiotech, middle right. Also pictured are Victoria Knott, NCNG Employment Center Counselor, and Juliann Breeden, NCNG Employment Center Counselor, far right. “I got a job lead, interview, and the job,” said Key. The NCNG Employment Center’s purpose is to increase career opportunities for serving and veteran members of Active Duty, Reserves, and National Guard, and qualifying family members. -U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Hugo Gonzalez

(C) N.C. Biotech Center