VOL. 132 | NO. 1 | Monday, January 2, 2017
Memphis Bioworks Surpasses Goals of Labor Department Job-Training Grant
By Andy Meek
The Memphis Bioworks Foundation is serious about workforce development and job training, along with the other high-profile work for which it’s known, like investing in companies related to bioscience and sustainability.
The organization’s workforce development team has wrapped up a job-training program funded through a U.S. Department of Labor grant awarded in 2011. The imperative given to Bioworks as part of that grant was to deliver high-growth job training and job-placement help targeting the long-term unemployed and underemployed in fields in which employers are using the H-1B visa program.
Such visas are granted to nonimmigrant foreign workers in specialty fields like advanced manufacturing, energy, health care and information technology.
Bioworks celebrated the program’s impact at its 20 Dudley St. office during a recent evening gathering, partly because of its impact. In each category measured in the program by the Department of Labor, the training initiatives surpassed goals for success.
Not only that, but the results exceeded more than 100 percent of the performance goals in each category.
For example, the program sought a goal of 390 participants served. Bioworks and its partners ended up serving 422.
The program sought a goal of 200 participants retaining their employment in the first and second quarters following their initial job placement after training – 216 ended up falling into that category.
“Each one of our partners played a critical role in this initiative’s success,” said Bioworks president and executive director Dr. Steve Bares.
Through the H-1B Technical Skills Training Grant, the Bioworks Foundation led a group of training providers that included Southwest Tennessee Community College, Tennessee College of Applied Technology at Memphis and at Whiteville, Lab Four, Seedco and the Workforce Investment Network to train workers in Shelby and Fayette counties. They were workers classified as either unemployed for at least six months or who were underemployed.
The targeted training categories and occupational fields included biotechnology technician, health information technician, and network and computer system administrator, among others.
Memphis Bioworks was one of 36 public-private partnerships in 20 states that received a grant, as the program aims to reduce reliance on H-1B visas.
The program is one of several workforce development initiatives led by Memphis Bioworks and designed to accelerate growth of the bioscience industry in the region.
“The overall mission of what the workforce development department does at Bioworks is to help individuals gain the technical skills and soft skills required to be successful in the career of their choice,” said Sondra Howell, Bioworks’ director of workforce development. “Because we’re part of the Bioworks Foundation, we focus on the life science or bioscience industry.”
Bioworks’ efforts in this area has resulted in professionals going back to get, for example, their associate’s degree as biotechnology technicians. And some of those professionals are now working in labs around the city at companies like Transnetyx and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“We had several individuals who were in management or executive positions or had been on the job a long time and then were laid off and weren’t able to find comparable employment,” Howell said. “So by redefining their career goals, they were able to come through our program and get new training or retraining and get new certifications that would make them marketable, and then enter into another or a new career successfully.”