Despite Some Headwinds, the MA Life Sciences Workforce Continues to Grow, Fueling a Thriving Ecosystem That Advances Health and Opportunity

Jun 13, 2024

By John Brothers, Senior Director, Workforce Development Strategy, Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation (MassBioEd)

MassBioEd, sister organization of MassBio, released the 2024 Massachusetts Life Sciences Employment Outlook  at the 9th annual Life Sciences Workforce Conference on June 11th at Boston University. Developed in collaboration with TEConomy Partners, the report synthesizes data from multiple sources to examine the ongoing trends shaping the life sciences workforce in Massachusetts, as well as the role educational institutions, training providers, and government play in supplying talent to the industry.

The 2024 Outlook highlights that the life sciences workforce in Massachusetts remains strong and growing, albeit at a slower pace in 2023. After strong job growth averaging 7.8 % each of the prior two years, the life sciences labor market experienced growth of 2.5% in 2023, returning to rates experienced prior to the pandemic. Projections for future job growth remain strong requiring continued efforts to diversify, train, and educate a skilled workforce to further cement Massachusetts’ global leadership in the life sciences.

Life Science employment in Massachusetts topped 140,000 for the first time in 2023 with projections for growth over the next 10 years of an additional 38,000 net new jobs by 2033.

2023 employment growth reverted to pre-pandemic levels as a combination of increased investor caution and macroeconomic conditions like inflation and rising interest rates impacted the sector. These trends have in turn resulted in slower hiring in some parts of the industry.

While volatility is difficult, it also drives the sector’s growth, including big surges in hiring in response to short-term conditions and market forces. The workforce has grown at a steady pace over the last 14 years despite frequent fluctuations due to the realities of companies in Massachusetts adjusting strategy for future growth. It is perhaps helpful to consider this quip heard from a seasoned executive about a recent reorganization, “This is my 10th reorg in the last 25 years.” And, overall, we must not forget that this period has included years of incredible growth.

MA Life Sciences Industry Employment Trends 2010-2023

Our talent pipeline is robust and supported by world-class private and public academic institutions as well as a large and growing network of skills-based training providers. Higher education institutions in Massachusetts remain 1.4 times more concentrated in life sciences degree production compared to the rest of the U.S., producing an average of 7,600 life sciences degree graduates annually from 2021 through 2023.

However, encouraging the persistence of STEM talent and preventing leakage of talent to other sectors are two big challenges to the supply of talent, more so than talent leaving the Commonwealth. Currently, only 19% of adult science degree earners are working in the Life Sciences sector. While, as a healthcare capital, we expect many science degree earners to land in health care, the data suggest that there is an opportunity to funnel more science talent into our industry.

Partnerships between industry, academia, nonprofits, and government have been fruitful, and these collaborations must continue developing the talent pipeline if our state is to remain in a leadership position. Massachusetts has long been the envy of the world in Research and Development. To extend that lead and write our next chapter, we must not only produce more degree-earners, but also continue and expand the integration of talent educated and trained by sources traditionally under tapped, like two- and four-year public colleges, community colleges, and a host of skills-based life sciences apprenticeship and training programs that are a source of skilled and diverse talent for our industry. As 56% of job postings are accessible to those with a bachelor’s degree or less, we must double-down our investments in, and partnership with, these important sources of new talent.

We must also go further upstream to continue to raise awareness of the life sciences in our schools and among career-seeking adults across the Commonwealth and to provide more hands-on opportunities for these audiences to experience the industry and understand what their place in it could be. The Employment Outlook reinforces the imperative to act on many fronts to preserve and build a vital workforce: partner with schools to spark interest in science from an early age, nurture more diverse talent from college to career, provide opportunities for career seeking adults to find training and onramps into the industry, and support individuals in the industry to persist and advance.

Despite some headwinds, the life science industry in Massachusetts, and the workforce that fuels it, remain strong. With continued partnership across industry, academia, government, and nonprofits, not only will we maintain and advance our global lead in this sector, but we will continue to power an industry of life-saving innovation and life-changing opportunity.

Download the full report here.

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