In a Rapidly Growing Industry, Here’s How We Can Ensure the Supply of Top Talent Meets the Demand

Jun 10, 2021

By Karla Talanian, Director of Talent & Workforce Development, MassBioEd

On June 2, MassBioEd hosted the 6th annual Life Sciences Workforce Conference. The program opened with a presentation of the 2021 Life Sciences Employment Outlook, which describes the state of the Massachusetts life sciences workforce, the search for talent, and specific challenges in recruitment and retention. Following this presentation, the Conference also included a discussion among several local biotech CEOs on the Future of the Workplace, exploring how a new paradigm of remote work and flexible schedules will impact the innovation culture this industry is known for. And we took a look into the future with an analysis of real estate data to see how planned construction of new life sciences capacity will further increase the need for talent. The Conference presentations can be viewed here.

The 2021 Life Sciences Employment Outlook

Produced in collaboration with TEConomy Partners this year’s Life Sciences Employment Outlook is an in-depth analysis of aggregate employment and hiring demand data, information on specifically what life sciences employers are looking for, and the forecast for new scientists entering the industry. Here are some highlights of the report:

  1. Currently, the biopharma industry employs approximately 90,000 individuals in Massachusetts. This number represents a decade-long growth rate of 67% and a 2019-20 growth of 4%. Both rates are substantially higher than that of the life sciences industry across the U.S., for which the 2010-2019 rate was 35% and the 2019-2020 rate 2%.
  2. Following these trends, we can expect an additional 20,000 jobs to be created over four years, with expected total employment of 109,000 by the end of 2024.
  3. Massachusetts life sciences companies hire and employ an outsized percentage of highly educated individuals, with 18% of jobs requiring at least a Ph.D., and 89% requiring at least a Bachelor’s Degree. Nationally these numbers are 12% and 79%, respectively.
  4. Scientists, scientific managers, regulatory affairs professionals, data scientists, and manufacturing staff are all in high demand.
  5. Massachusetts tops the country in graduates with life sciences-related degrees, especially at the doctoral level.
  6. Over the past four years, in Massachusetts, there has been a 17% increase in Ph.D. conferrals in life sciences-related fields. Across the U.S., this increase has been essentially 0%. Since recruitment for these individuals is typically conducted on a national scale, this dearth of new talent is especially worrisome for an industry that relies on a highly-skilled, hyper-educated workforce.

The Life Sciences Workforce Conference also included the presentation of planned construction activity within the life sciences sector. With a current capacity of 46,000,000 square feet and 90,000 employees, we arrive at a very rough, industry-wide ratio of 500 square feet/employee. Currently, there are over 19,000,000 square feet of planned life sciences space, scheduled to go online between 2021-2024, with about half of this already under development. Even using the low, “guaranteed” number of 10,000,000 square feet of space, this translates into 20,000 new employees that will be needed by 2024.  If all planned 19,300,000 square feet come into existence, this number increases to 38,600 new employees needed to fill these new spaces.

In short, the supply of talent is not keeping up with the demand. 

So, how will Massachusetts respond to this challenge?

  • We must expand investment in K-12 science education. The pipeline starts with our youngest generation being well prepared to pursue a STEM career.
  • Accelerate efforts at career exploration and awareness at the K-12 and college level. Students approach academic subjects with more interest and enthusiasm if they can see a future for themselves where their studies will matter. Even those who enjoy and excel in STEM subjects seldom are aware of the myriad of career opportunities the life sciences industry can provide.
  • Students must have a better understanding of what continued education looks like after high school. For many teens, the idea of continuing “school” for an additional four years – or an additional ten years to achieve a Ph.D. – is anathema. Through building relationships between industry professionals and students (and teachers) and providing accurate and inspiring informational guides we can illuminate pathways to meaningful and attainable careers.
  • The current paradigm of only recruiting college graduates (often from a limited number of schools) and watching them bounce from one competitor company to another is not working. The industry, academia, government, and non-profits must work together to create new pathways into the industry for people with non-traditional backgrounds. Intensive, short-term training programs can prepare individuals with transferable skills for many entry-level jobs in the industry. This will not relieve the challenge of growing the field of doctoral-level trained scientists who are truly necessary to fill many industry roles. However, training programs can provide a novel point of entry for those outside of the traditional educational pathway and hence grow the field of mid-skilled support staff necessary for any life sciences enterprise.

The data presented in the Life Sciences Employment Outlook and at the Life Sciences Workforce Conference should be viewed as a call to action. The Massachusetts life sciences industry currently leads the world. Our continued success depends on a world-class workforce.

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