MassBio® Releases Study Identifying Workforce Needs and Challenges Within Massachusetts’ Life Sciences Industry

Jun 01, 2022

Key insights on life sciences employers’ hiring expectations, preferred skillsets, and projected growth for the industry form basis for recommendations.

June 1, 2022 (CAMBRIDGE, MA) – The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio®) commissioned BW Research Partnership to conduct research identifying workforce needs, expectations, and challenges across the Massachusetts life sciences industry. Findings from 129 biopharma companies show that 78 percent expect to grow their workforce over the next 12 months with both entry- and non-entry-level new hires, with most also having experienced difficulty in filling open positions during the last year. MassBio’s industry snapshot released last year identified a near-term demand of up to 40,000 new workers by 2024.

The study offers specific short-term interventions and long-term strategies to inform how the life sciences ecosystem can supply a workforce to meet the industry’s anticipated growth. These recommendations include focusing on non-four-year degree pathways with hands-on experience, partnerships with Minority Serving Institutions, increasing career awareness in younger students, and centralizing workforce development efforts. The focus of the recommendations and a priority for MassBio is to improve access for underrepresented and disadvantaged populations including women and people of color to opportunities by meeting them where they are geographically, educationally, culturally, and in life.

“This report reinforces the strength of the Massachusetts life sciences industry and reveals what companies are looking for from job candidates and how the ecosystem must adjust the traditional talent pipeline to meet the demand,” said Joe Boncore, CEO of MassBio. “Continued collaboration between government, academia and companies is critical to better fill roles and prepare applicants for careers, and this study provides us the data to take action.”

Between 2006 and 2021, the Massachusetts life sciences industry labor market more than doubled (131 percent) while the overall statewide labor market grew by 6.9 percent. Life sciences growth far outpaced utilities, education, construction, retail, finance, and insurance. The survey notes that research and development and pharmaceutical manufacturing are central to the state’s life sciences labor market.

The study went on to note several challenges including a skills and experience gap between firm expectations and available or prospective hires. Competition for talent remains very high in the life sciences industry, and both large and small companies have had to get creative to attract and retain talent. Many firms are employing various methods to attract and retain talent, including higher wages, improved benefits, and hybrid work models.

“There are many organizations and institutions across Massachusetts that are doing great things in the workforce space, and this report gives us some insight into scaling the most successful initiatives and re-thinking certain educational and training pathways,” said Kendalle Burlin O’Connell, President, and COO of MassBio. “MassBio is excited to help facilitate the connections and collaborations across our ecosystem to fill and diversify the talent pipeline, as well as regionalize and expand the industry.”

The study noted that about seven in 10 surveyed firms indicated that they prefer entry-level applicants to have a bachelor’s degree, but only 58.8 percent require a bachelor’s degree. About one-third of surveyed employers indicated that their required level of education for entry-level candidates is an associate degree or less, which includes a certification or postsecondary nondegree award or a high school diploma or equivalent. For both entry- and non-entry-level positions, firms reported interest in more STEM program offerings in their region, as these types of programs and certificates would meet their firm’s skill requirements and hiring needs. Out of a list of potential program and resource offerings which included mentorships, career days, and wage reimbursement, 43.2 percent of firms indicated interest in an apprenticeship-type program for their future employees.

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