Fortifying the Pipeline for LA County’s Bioscience Workforce

(Left to Right) Bio-Flex Graduates Emily Soriano, Vera Hutchings, Gabriel Sianez, and Andrea Morando

Nineteen high school students from Compton Manuel Dominguez High School graduated from the Bio-Flex Pre-apprenticeship program, created to expose and offer high school and college students’ hands-on experience at a Bioscience company. The program is a flexible, yet structured career pathway for the next generation of Bioscience workers in LA County. So far, more than 75 students have graduated from the Bio-Flex program after being placed with companies such as Takeda, Oak Crest Institute of Science, Protomer Technologies, and Pasadena Bio Collaborative Incubator.

Bio-Flex Graduate Vera Hutchings

“Thank you for giving me this amazing opportunity to be a part of the Bio-Flex program. I see myself working in the forensic science department in the near future and I would like to thank this program for giving me the opportunity to see different types of career choices. My favorite part of the program was getting to meet people from different companies and understanding their stories and seeing how they work.” – Bio-Flex Graduate Vera Hutchings

In 2015, in a motion authored by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, he directed the County of Los Angeles to study key industries for job growth and economic development. The result was the development of a Countywide Bioscience initiative that included the formation of the Bio-Flex program to create pre-apprenticeship and registered apprenticeship training opportunities for underrepresented communities.

“Bio and life sciences have seen tremendous growth over the past several years, particularly in LA, where the industry outpaced the economy during the last economic slowdown,” said David J. Whelan, Chief Executive Officer of BioscienceLA, the regional innovation catalyst seeded by the Bioscience Initiative. “Today, as we weather both healthcare and economic crises, the industry is poised for significant expansion, which will create numerous new jobs in the LA region, which will in turn require new training and development programs. We are building the future of health innovation today through programs like Bio-Flex.”

In a partnership that includes the South Bay Workforce Investment Board (SBWIB), and the County of Los Angeles Workforce Development, Aging, and Community Services Department (WDACS), El Camino College, West Los Angeles College, the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, Cal State Dominguez Hills, BioCom, RxRS Foundation, and Training Funding Partners, this innovative workforce pipeline program has worked to increase diversity in the Bioscience sector by training the next generation for bioscience jobs that include lab coat careers as well as manufacturing careers such as production, equipment and quality control technician.

Bio-Flex Graduate Gabriel Sianez

“I am grateful to have been in this Bio-Flex program! If you’re looking to soon be employed, I recommend this program as it strengthened my skills and confidence! This program has opened up my eyes even more in this field which I seek to pursue.” – Bio-Flex Graduate Gabriel Sianez

The Compton cohort of Bio-Flex students from Manuel Dominguez High School represent the most diverse class yet to graduate from this program. The graduating class was composed of all students of color, which included seventeen females and two males. They were exposed to employer-approved online training courses providing skills needed to succeed in the life science field. This year’s student program concluded with a virtual career day featuring a remote tour of the new BioLabs at The Lundquist Institute, along with a discussion on career pathways and a tour from the PolyPeptide Group, a company that manufactures and develops peptide active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) in Torrance.

The Compton High School teacher who leads the class, Dr. Olushina Oshinuga, said “The students who participated and completed the Bio-Flex program saw the great opportunity presented, and they were not afraid to go after it. They were determined to succeed.”

Bio-Flex Graduate Andrea Morando

“I want to thank Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and the South Bay Workforce Investment Board for giving me the opportunity to be a part of the Bio-Flex Program. My knowledge has increased so much day by day, especially helping me be prepared for an actual job interview. I had so much fun and gained greater knowledge. Thank you.” – Bio-Flex Graduate Andrea Morando

Recently, SBWIB received approval from the United States Department of Labor to register two apprenticeship occupations, Bio-Manufacturing/Production Technician and Biomedical Equipment Technician. A Bio-Manufacturing/Production Technician or Assistant works in the lab and adheres to standard operating procedures to safely mix, inspect, and test bio-medical goods. The Biomedical Equipment Technician inspects and tests malfunctioning medical or related equipment, following manufacturers’ specifications and using test and analysis instruments.

The apprenticeships have been approved for ages as young as 17 years old. It will be up to the bioscience employer to decide what age to hire but creating an apprenticeship that allows youth to become an apprentice is a unique and innovative feature of these non-traditional apprenticeship models. SBWIB engaged several employers who are participating in the Bio-Flex program and have helped to craft the design of the training plans. One of these employers includes Bachem Americas, a company that manufactures API’s as well as innovative biochemicals for research purposes. Bachem has expressed interest in taking on an apprentice along with many other employers such as Thermo Fisher Scientific, Freudenberg Medical, Sakura, Takeda, Oak Crest Institute, Protomer Technologies and Pasadena Bio Collaborative Incubator.

“It has been a pleasure to work with the Office of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to set up the Bio-Flex program. These new apprenticeship models will provide so many fantastic career opportunities for young people throughout our community for years to come,” said Jan Vogel, SBWIB Executive Director.

Youth interested in an exciting bioscience career should visit the Bio-Flex website https://www.sbwib.org/bioflex for more information and apply for an apprenticeship using the South Bay WIB’s resume portal.

LA County Goes to Bat for Small Business

Left to Right: Byeong Seong Lee and his son, Chan Lee, at the family owned Rex’s Baseball Batting Cage in Athens. Photo by Aurelia Ventura / Board of Supervisors

Since 1978, Rex’s Baseball Batting Cage has been a community staple for the West Athens area. The 18,295 square foot outdoor batting cage provides an opportunity for residents to keep their baseball skills sharp by practicing their swing on its baseball and softball pitching machines. However, like so many other businesses in the face of COVID-19 and “Safe at Home” orders that shut down all non-essential business, it faced immediate, existential challenges to stay in business over the last two months.

“Before COVID-19, we were just getting into the baseball season,” said Chan Lee, Co-Owner of Rex’s Baseball Batting Cage, who has been running the family owned business with his father since he purchased it in 2005. “It was a very difficult two months with a lot of uncertainty.”

It was during this time, Lee learned about the Los Angeles County Small Business Recovery Loan Program which provides loans for small businesses to help cover operating expenses so that they are able to survive during this difficult moment. The program focused on small businesses with twenty or less employees in unincorporated areas of the county, and provided up to $20,000 in loans, making it possible to keep their doors open. While the program is currently closed for new applications, additional funding will become available late summer or early fall.

“The County of Los Angeles has stepped up to the plate to make sure that small businesses reopen,” said LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has been a champion for small businesses authoring a motion to provide resources.  “But that is no substitute for the foot traffic that makes small businesses thrive. When they thrive, our communities thrive.”

“This loan helped us catch up on our bills.  It helped us keep the lights on and open back up,” said Lee at Rex’s Baseball Batting Cage during its first month back open.  “Glad to be able to open back up for the community.”

Statement on LA County’s Economic Resiliency Task Force

“The events of this past week, and underlying tensions, have made the work of the Economic Resiliency Task Force all that more critical and albeit challenging.

“We must do all that we can to move forward safely but with a sense of urgency and equity to allow businesses to reopen and for employees to return to work.This means also focusing recovery strategies that address the inequities that have been long endured by disadvantaged communities and communities of color. For instance, I am pleased to see that hair salons and barbershops were recently allowed to reopen. It makes a huge difference economically and culturally. Small. Business. Matters.

“Providing a path forward to meaningful employment, family sustaining employment, is necessary if we are to be successful in the work that must be done to restore trust and faith in government at all levels. This work, this Task Force is both timely and critical given our unemployment rate of more than 20%, four percentage points higher than the rate for the State, with projections that our unemployment rate could exceed 30%.

“While there have been jobs losses across the board, the most significant impact has been on low-wage jobs in the retail, food service, entertainment and hospitality sectors. Much of what we witnessed this past weekend was a reflection of the disparity that exists in communities of color.

“However, here, is where we have a duty, and opportunity, to take advantage of growth sectors and new markets created by a post-COVID reality. Manufacturing will be looked at with renewed interest as we consider onshoring many operations that moved overseas in search of cheaper labor. Bioscience is expected to see significant new investment. We must expand training opportunities to make sure Angelenos are equipped to take advantage of the opportunities this sector has to offer.

“There is a bright future ahead for Los Angeles, and that future that begins here with all of us working together for greater prosperity that is shared by all the residents of LA County. That future begins here with all of us working together for greater prosperity by ALL.”

Statement on Metro Budget and Cost Control Efforts

Metro construction at the Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Station. Photo courtesy of Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority

“Due to a Board with an expansive vision and an agency motivated to deliver, we have found ourselves in a position to advance projects years before the commitment made to voters when they passed Measure M. The work to do so over the past few years has been audacious, driven by a reality that the infrastructure and transportation needs are significant in all corners of this region. I have long advanced a regional, rational, and equitable transportation policy at Metro.

“But this moment rightly forces us to reevaluate. First and foremost, our commitment must continue to be on delivering Measure M projects where and when they were promised. Then, this crisis should motivate us all – including our industry partners – to do some belt tightening.

“Investing in infrastructure has historically been the ticket to restarting the economy, and we should exhaust efforts to drive that scenario now. These efforts should be guided by unprecedented innovation and resourcefulness. This is a new reality, and we must be guided accordingly.”

LA County Announces New Countywide Economic Recovery Task Force

Amid the pandemic, Los Angeles County is making an unprecedented effort to assist small businesses and individuals experiencing financial hardships. In direct response to the COVID-19 economic challenges, the Board of Supervisors approved a motion co-authored by Supervisors Barger and Solis to establish the Economic Recovery Task Force that would design, coordinate and execute a Comprehensive Economic Recovery Plan.

“We know long after this virus is gone, the economic damage will remain. We need to understand the full financial impact that this disease has had on our economy in order to form a suitable response,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “We will research, refocus and rebuild to come out of this stronger.”

The objective of this plan is to set forth viable strategies that prepare the region for renewed growth and prosperity throughout the County. The Task Force will be required to report back with applicable ideas and proposals, within a span of 90 days. The Task Force will be a working group of economic development practitioners and experts from business, government, labor, academia, and all five members of the Board. Recently, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas sent a letter to the Chief Executive Office detailing his primary objectives and focus around The Task Force.

“We need to acquire the experience and expertise needed for charting a path forward – ensuring that future prosperity is accessible and shared by all communities,” commented Ridley-Thomas.

The County has already begun to provide technical assistance to help small businesses access state and federal funds that are being made available to abate the impact of the crisis. Several efforts at the County and State level have been implemented to assist businesses and workers at this time. These efforts include: the Employer Assistance Grant Fund program, the L.A. County Worker and Business Disaster Help Center and the Small Business Relief Fund – all established by The Board of Supervisors in conjunction with the Department of Workforce Development, Aging, and Community Services (WDACS) and the Departments of Consumer and Business Affairs (DCBA).

For more information about how to access available funds and updates on the items listed above, please visit: lacountyhelpcenter.org or call 833-238-4450.