In January 2020, El Camino College and West Los Angeles College secured a grant from the California Apprenticeship Initiative (CAI) to support their newest pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs—Bio-Flex—designed to train incumbent workers and attract new employees to the biosciences industry. Both programs aspire to connect employers to a diverse workforce by offering job seekers who are interested in exploring careers in biosciences a comprehensive career pathway.
El Camino and West Los Angeles College designed Bio-Flex with employers, educators, and industry partners, including the South Bay Workforce Investment Board (SBWIB). The partners built on their experience of creating a flexible pre-apprenticeship program for the aerospace industry—the Aero-Flex Pre-Apprenticeship program (AFPA). Using the employer directed AFPA as a model, they developed a three-track pathway for the Bio-Flex Pre-Apprenticeship that includes work readiness skills training, industry-specific occupational skills training, on-the-job training (OJT), and work-based learning experiences. At the end of eight weeks, the result is a stackable, industry-recognized credential for each of the three training modules completed. Individuals who want to pursue a career in biosciences can receive paid work experience with options for enrollment into the Bio-Flex Apprenticeship Program or secondary education.
Dr. Wendie Johnston and Robert C. Bishop, Ph.D., of the Pasadena Bio Collaborative Incubator with students who completed the Bio-Flex program.
The partners, who received the grant in January, have already made significant progress on the Bio-Flex program. After the first three months, they have submitted standards for registering the apprenticeship and two occupations —Production Technician and Maintenance Technician—with the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL). Next, they will file these two occupations with the California Division of Apprenticeship Standards (DAS), as they work on a third occupation – Quality Assurance Specialist. Once these three occupations are registered, the program intends to enroll 50 apprentices from all over California. Local apprentices can enroll in the El Camino program, while distance learners can enroll by tailoring the flexible program to fit the skills training available in their region.
The “Flex Model” first began with AFPA in 2016. With the support of earlier CAI grants, El Camino and West Los Angeles College helped develop employer-driven pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship curricula that would meet the workforce development needs of the aerospace engineering industry, participating manufacturers, and apprentices. At the end of the program, students receive a certificate from USDOL and DAS, may also receive a certificate or degree from the college, and employers have a highly skilled and trained workforce.
The design process of both the Aero-Flex and Bio-Flex programs has been a collaboration between colleges and industry partners, facilitated by SBWIB, which supported the colleges in the grant writing process and matched employers with OJT skills and classroom training. “We only want to work on things that are needed by the employers, because that ensures that the individual is likely to be hired,” says Chris Cagle, the Regional Affairs Manager for SBWIB, “We want to be nimble in that way and we’re always moving and adjusting with the market so we can act quickly.”
Moving forward, the Bio-Flex team hopes to add two new apprenticeship programs for additional sectors: Energy-Flex and Health-Flex. Energy-Flex would train individuals who are working with existing energy technologies on newer, carbon-free emission technologies. Similarly, Health-Flex would provide labor and delivery training and other healthcare training as directed by employers. The same “Flex Model” will roll over to these industries and would also include Pre-Apprenticeship and registered Apprenticeship occupations.