Re-Careering Service Members During COVID-19

Nov 19, 2020

By Edie Stringfellow, Senior Director, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, MassBio

In this unparalleled time, our nation is more dependent on the life sciences than ever before. COVID-19 has brought the industry to the forefront of all discussions across the country and our fellow citizens are coming to understand how valued and necessary the industry is and how dependent we are on it to stay healthy.  

Yet, in order for our industry to succeed now and into the future, we need a strong and diverse talent pipeline. Some leaders may argue that the aptitude, agility, and critical thinking skills needed by biopharma organizations to circumnavigate the unchartered waters caused by COVID-19 is difficult to find, nevertheless, retain. However, there is a talent pool that is trained and prepared just for these crises and often left out of diverse hiring considerations: our honorable transitioning U.S. armed forces personnel.

When we talk about equity, diversity, and inclusion (ED&I), race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and other protected classes are top of mind. ED&I is more than that. It is also about valuing individual backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. Seldomly, veterans and their attributes are included in the conversation. They have a strong work ethic, are comfortable working with different teams and environments, are complex problem solvers, and are trained with cutting-edge technology.

There are several programs and organizations that assist with a smoother transition into the life sciences industry. A few are highlighted below:

  • MVPvets assists and prepares transitioning service members and military veterans for meaningful employment in medical device and life science companies. MVPvets’ network has grown to nearly 100 life science and medical device companies, hundreds of mentors, and thousands of veterans.
  • Life Sciences Veterans Action Network (LS-VAN) establishes a new way of working together as an industry and engage as a community to be the bridge for transitioning military/first responders into the life sciences sector; making Massachusetts the go-to destination for biotech opportunities. LS-VAN also aims to further the cause of veteran employment as well as to share resources to solve for the social, economic, and healthcare challenges veterans face.
  • DOD SkillBridge Translator allows employers to craft programs to meet their specific workforce needs, matching those needs to the skills and abilities of highly motivated Service members, all at no cost.

Veterans as a group is diverse. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Employment Situation of Veterans Report, the U.S. 18.8 million veterans include:

  • 1.8 million female veterans
  • 2.3 million Black veterans
  • 1.3 million Hispanic/Latinx veterans
  • Approximately 25% have a service-connected disability
  • Approximately 33% are over the age of 50

To highlight the importance of including veterans into the life sciences and as part of any ED&I initiative, MassBio and our partners at MassBioEd were involved in three initiatives in November — National Veterans & Military Families Month.

  • In honor of Veterans Day, LS-VAN hosted a virtual program and an Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) Signing Ceremony for the life sciences industry. Major General Paul Keefe, the Adjutant General and Paul Zbikowski, ESGR State Chair, presided over with executives from LS-VAN partner companies (Abbvie, Biogen, Quest Diagnostics, and Vertex) to demonstrate their employer support of the National Guard and Reserve in the state of Massachusetts. Speakers included Bob Coughlin, President & CEO of MassBio; Brigadier General Jack Hammond of Home Base, Keynote; and C. Andrew McCawley of New England Center and Home for Veterans (NECHV).
  • MassBio’s Make Shift Happen with ED&I featured Major Sonya Tucker, U.S. Army, (Ret.), Regional Business Leader, General Medicines, Sanofi and N.A. Co-Lead, Vets ERG; and Captain Derek Herrera, USMC (Ret.), Founder & CTO, Spinal Singularity, President & Chairman of the Board, MVPvets. We covered ‘re-careering’ real-world experience to meaningfully impact and support scientific discovery and the patient community; how veterans ERGs contribute to strategic growth; and how anti-bias training with non-veteran staff can help address stereotypes about service members. Click here to view this Make Shift Happen program in its entirety.
  • MassBioEd is excited to launch two Life Sciences Apprenticeship programs in 2021. These programs will provide alternative, accelerated pathways into life sciences jobs in Biomanufacturing and Clinical Operations that offer excellent potential for career growth. MassBioEd will recruit candidates who are underrepresented in the industry – including minorities, women, and military veterans. Selected apprentices will receive free technical education, paid on the job training, and mentorship. We are grateful for support from Bristol Myers Squibb that is enabling the launch of these programs. For additional information, please contact

With incomparable skills and experience, veterans are a great asset to any team. Hiring them, especially during COVID-19, is a no brainer. Consider ways to incorporate them into your ED&I plans. It will be a strategic move that you will never regret. We ask you to more than simply ‘thank them for their service’. We ask that you honor them by giving them an opportunity.

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