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Mass. Gov’t, Academia, Industry to Study How State Can Reverse Life Science Slump

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Massachusetts leaders in public higher education, government, and life sciences will spend the next year studying an issue that has long vexed advocates for a larger life-sciences cluster in the state: How many workers does the industry need statewide over the next eight years?
 
The $250,000 Life Sciences Talent Initiative, to be conducted by the University of Massachusetts’ Donahue Institute, will examine federal and state labor data to prepare economic and occupational forecasts for the state’s life-science industry.
 
The study was sparked in part by finding that Massachusetts’ leadership in biotech had eroded in recent years.
 
The study will assess the range of occupations in the state’s life-sciences industry, the skills required for those jobs, the demand for those jobs through 2015, and the supply of graduates to fill those positions, said Michael Goodman, director of economic and public policy research at the Donahue Institute.
 
“We will indeed be looking at some pipeline issues – what kinds of programs are industry-relevant and to what extent are they present here in Massachusetts,” Goodman told BioRegionNews. The study will also try to evaluate “how many grads or equivalently-trained folk are being produced by our current education and training system.”
 
He said the study will offer recommendations for how the state’s industry leaders and officials should carry out the job goals the report will develop, as well as monitor progress during the first year after the study.
 
The study is expected to end next June, though preliminary findings on labor supply and demand will be released in the fall, according to Goodman. The study will be overseen by a pair of panels: an in-state advisory group consisting of business, academic, and government professionals and a national advisory panel that would peer-review the findings.
 
The size of both panels has yet to be determined, though Goodman anticipates the in-state panel would consist of “no more than 18 or 20” panelists and the national group, three or four. At deadline no members had been selected for either panel.
 
Those selections will be made by a consensus of leaders from UMass, state officials, the Massachusetts Biotech Council, the Massachusetts Medical Device Industry Council, and smaller industry groups.
 
Goodman said the study will examine hiring trends in the sectors that traditionally comprise life sciences — biotech, pharmaceuticals, research and development, and medical laboratory services — as well as medical device manufacturing, another fast-growing sector.
 
Mass. Exodus
 


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According to US Bureau of Labor Statistics data analyzed by the Donahue Institute, “biopharmaceutical” employment in Massachusetts, excluding medical devices, rose 44 percent between 1999 and 2004, or from 33,618 to 48,242 jobs. The Bay State, which is the seventh-largest life-science employer nationwide, placed number-nine on the list of states with the 10 highest increases in life-sciences employment. [See Chart]
 
However, that gain lagged behind the nation’s overall 57-percent increase in life-science hires, which added 378,969 jobs during that five-year period.
 
According to Goodman, contributing to the lag could be that life -sciences jobs in Massachusetts tend to be high-paying R&D positions in companies requiring fewer qualified professionals compared with the manufacturing positions that dominate life sciences in other states, and that quality–of-life issues, including things like worsening traffic and a shrinking supply of affordable housing, have driven workers and employers out of the state.
 
As a result, even while Massachusetts has trumpeted some recent pharma manufacturing expansions, such as the $750 million, 400,000-square-foot biologics-manufacturing plant being built in Devens by Bristol-Myers Squibb, filling the new jobs being created won’t be easy.
 
“With this cost-of-living challenge, getting experienced plant managers to relocate from centers of pharma manufacturing — North Carolina, Puerto Rico, parts of California — is very difficult,´ said Goodman, who is also managing editor of MassBenchmarks, a quarterly journal on the Massachusetts economy produced by the UMass Donahue Institute with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. “The cost of living, particularly the cost of housing, in some of those places is radically lower.”
 
“When they’re in California, they’re not in San Francisco on the manufacturing side as much,” he said. “So we do hear reports from employers saying that their prospective employees [in Massachusetts] have sticker shock.”
 
The Donahue Institute is one of three groups that have released studies since last October concluding that Massachusetts’ leadership in biotech had eroded in recent years. The studies helped forge a consensus among life sciences and government leaders that Massachusetts needed to strengthen its biotech cluster.
 
Gov. Deval Patrick sought to satisfy that consensus last month when he announced his proposal to spend $1 billion over the next 10 years to attract and retain biotech companies, subsidize research, and train future professionals [BioRegion News, May 14].
 
Patrick’s administration has yet to codify his Life Sciences Initiative into a formal bill for review by the state General Court or legislature, said David Guarino, a spokesman for Massachusetts House of Representatives Speaker Salvatore DiMasi (D-Boston).
 
Spokespeople for Patrick and state Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) did not return calls from BioRegion News.
 
Last April, the Donahue Institute cited worker training as a key challenge for Massachusetts’ life science industry in “A Critical Alliance: The Biotechnology & Pharmaceutical Industries in Massachusetts,” a study released last April.
 
“Massachusetts has a well-developed pool of highly skilled, doctoral-level workers, but it has greater challenges attracting and retaining workers at the associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degree levels,” the study concluded.
 
In its April study “Super Cluster: Ideas, Perspectives and updates from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Industry", PricewaterhouseCoopers found that Massachusetts produces enough life sciences workers to fill almost all jobs from candidates within the state, with some exceptions., PricewaterhouseCoopers found that Massachusetts produces enough life sciences workers to fill almost all jobs from candidates within the state, with some exceptions.
 
“Some shortages have been identified, including shortages of technicians and workers with manufacturing expertise. In addition, almost a quarter of respondents to the 2007 PwC Massachusetts Life Sciences Survey indicated that they do not believe the workforce is adequately prepared for work in the life sciences industry,” PwC concluded.
 
To read the PwC report click here:
 
A 16-page study released last October by the John Adams Innovation Institute, the economic-development arm of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, concluded that “the high cost of housing has made it difficult for mid-level employees to live in the Commonwealth. This may be contributing to shortages in some professional categories and the inability to attract and retain talent at all levels.”
 
Read “Taking_Stock of Progress and Challenges: Massachusetts Life Sciences Superclusterhere.
 
Workforce development was identified as a key issue for the industry as far back as the 2003 Life Science Summit held at Harvard Business School, along with technology commercialization, expansion of clinical trials, adoption of new medical technology and bolstering manufacturing.
 
In his presentation at the summit, “Massachusetts’ Competitive Position in Life Sciences: Where Do We Stand?” Michael Porter, a professor at Harvard Business School’s Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness, said the state’s life-sciences cluster needs a strategy to expand its supply of workers, especially mid-level professionals, in the face of rising living costs and competition among employers. Growth by corporate research facilities, he found, was increasing the pressure on hospitals and research institutions to compete for mid-level professionals.
 
That strategy could finally emerge with the Donahue Institute study, Goodman said. “There hasn’t been a study that has taken a formal look at where the gaps in the workforce are currently, and where they’re likely to be in the future, and, importantly, what can be done about it,” he said. “This study will be unique in that respect.”
 
Study participants won’t be afraid to look beyond state borders for answers, he added.
 
“We will be looking for other states for models of how to more effectively deliver the education and training services to prepare this life-sciences workforce of the future,” said Goodman. “I’d expect cautionary tales and models for how to organize one’s educational and training system to meet the needs of the growing life science cluster.”
 

“When they’re in California, they’re not in San Francisco on the manufacturing side as much. So we do hear reports from employers saying that their prospective employees [in Massachusetts] have sticker shock.”

Goodman said the study would focus on training and higher education from community colleges through the doctorate levels — not on the K-12 sector, a key focus of the biotech council’s Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation.
 
“While there are clearly some remaining issues as far as K-12 readiness for the life sciences, I think there’s a growing recognition within the state government, within the higher education community, and significantly within the industry that it’s those advanced skills that one gets after one leaves high school that have a great degree of urgency,” Goodman said.
 
Yet PwC said the 105 industry and academic leaders surveyed for its study agreed that Massachusetts would also have to improve its K-12 education system to see the larger workforce being sought by the life sciences cluster.
 
“In particular, they suggest that the key areas for improvement are in K-12 education as well as post-high-school training,” the PwC study concluded. “Massachusetts educators should focus on math and science curriculums that will hone the types of skills most needed for the future in the life sciences [e.g., the increasing use of automation in the life sciences] and understand its impact on the types of skills workers will need in the future.”
 
The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council will fund $50,000 of the study. The remainder will come from the state Life Sciences Center, created last year by Patrick’s predecessor Mitt Romney to boost the biotech industry in Massachusetts.
 
The study marks the center’s first project since a June 7 shakeup in which its first executive director, Aaron D’Elia, was forced to resign. In a lame-duck appointment that drew fire from biotech leaders, Romney last December hired D’Elia as the center’s $125,000-a-year director for one year. Critics cited D’Elia’s lack of biotech industry experience and feared that he would follow Romney’s policy of restricting stem-cell research, a view D’Elia denied sharing.
 
D’Elia, who did not return a call seeking comment, told BioRegion News last month that his office was working on the workforce study as well as on a grant program for researchers who collaborate with industry partners. D’Elia planned to issue a formal request for grant proposals the second week of August.
 
The status of that program was not clear at deadline. The chairman of the life science board, UMass President Jack Wilson, was unavailable for comment last week.
 
“I’m doing the best job I possibly can. I’m here to execute what the board wants me to do. If the board wants me to continue or not, that’s up to the board,” D’Elia said May 11.
 

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