The nature of work is changing and as businesses struggle to fill job openings, local biotech company Teknova has taken a proactive approach and teamed up with Gavilan College to offer its workforce a way to expand their skills and meet increasing industry demands.
“Teknova has a very common dilemma that the industry is facing right now,” said Susan Sweeney, director of community education and career pathways at the community college. “It’s difficult to find workers, especially in San Benito County, with those middle-skill sets you would find in jobs that have a vocational requirement, but not necessarily a four-year degree. The challenge is finding the skill sets necessary [to do the job].”
Teknova manufactures and sells biological media. Their products are used throughout the medical, biotech and pharmaceutical industries as well as universities conducting research.
There is a lot of lab work involved and the type of skills necessary aren’t necessarily “sexy,” Sweeney said.
“Young people aren’t looking to get into the field. High tech and the healthcare industry draws the youth. When you’re talking about lab tech work, that’s not as attractive. Teknova is not any different, but they are innovative in that they decided they’re going to grow their own mid-skill workers from the people already there. I think that’s generous and forward-thinking.”
The local biotech company employs just over 100 people.
“We have employees across a spectrum of skills and knowledge levels in these areas, but of course our company deals exclusively with products in this field,” said Richard Goozh, chief financial officer at Teknova. “We went to Gavilan to see what course offerings they had. There wasn’t anything tailored to the specifications we wanted, so we had a conversation to form our own program tailored to the needs of our staff.”
Teknova met with Gavilan College and came up with a biochemistry course specific to the company’s needs.
“Gavilan’s role was to sit down, listen to what they need and help them develop their own curriculum,” Sweeney said.
Teknova Formulation Scientist Sarah Mullen oversaw the biochemistry course, which went over introductory chemical principles as they apply to company jobs.
“I grew up in Hollister and graduated from San Benito High School in 2007 and didn’t know biotech was in our backyard,” Mullen said. “I really enjoy my work at Teknova. It’s never the same day twice. When people come out of school, they want to work in a meaningful way toward something. Because what we do with custom products, everyday we’re making different batch sizes. As we continue to grow, there are challenges with any company that’s growing. It’s very stimulating.”
Teknova has a need for workers with a specific skill set, which can be difficult to find in such a small community. But, times are changing.
“It can sometimes be difficult to find the right fit for our needs as we grow,” Goozh said. “The flip side of that is with the growth of the community itself, specifically because many people are choosing to move here from San Jose or other areas because it’s such a beautiful place to live, we’re starting to see those skill sets moving to us. It’s nice to see the community growing to high tech and biotech skills. As Teknova grows, we can tap into that.”
Fifteen Teknova employees completed the six-week introductory course that wrapped up in August. There are plans to offer a second biochemistry course with a different set of skills to employees in the coming months.
“We’ll focus on a different set of topics, build on what we learned in the first part and go into relevant topics given the industry we’re in,” Mullen said.
Sweeney said the course got positive reviews.
“It’s solving the immediate problem for Teknova in that you’re growing your own skill set and you’re doing it at your own business,” Sweeney said. “They choose the time, the length and then we come back with a proposal on what it costs to do it. It’s a pathway through education directly into employment. You can’t beat that.”