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Mass. May Have 11K New Life-Sci Jobs by 2014, But How Many Will Local Talent Fill?

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BOSTON — Massachusetts life-sciences companies will net about 11,000 new jobs through 2014, but the industry, the state, and all its schools must do more to ensure the positions can all be filled by workers from inside its borders, according to a report released last week.
 
Leaders from the life-sciences industry must join with their counterparts in academia and state government to step up worker training — in many cases emulating smaller efforts now scattered across Massachusetts, according to the report, issued by the state agency overseeing Gov. Deval Patrick’s $1 billion, 10-year Life Sciences Initiative, and the state’s life-sci industry group.
 
The state-created Massachusetts Life Sciences Center and industry group Massachusetts Biotechnology Council found that while 85 percent of some 300 state-based life-sciences employers surveyed expect to expand in the next two years, 90 percent find it difficult to fill clinical research jobs since too few state-based workers are trained for them.
 
According to the report, some efforts are already underway to address that problem. Academic institutions have developed new life-sci programs, such as a new master’s degree in clinical sciences launched by state-funded University of Massachusetts.
 
The biotech council and other industry groups are designing a program aimed at conveying their needs to educators and worker trainers. And the life-sci center has begun working to coordinate the activity of schools and life-sci businesses — among other goals articulated earlier this month by the center’s president and CEO, Susan Windham-Bannister [BRN, Sept. 8].
 
“It really is not the genesis, but a catalyst for some future activity. This report will enrich the dialogue that we have with the industry in those training programs, so that we can build up the most effective models,” Suzanne Bump, Secretary of Massachusetts’ Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, told BRN.
 
“What this will help to do is create a new kind of dialogue,” Bump added. “Clearly, conversations will continue about the need for higher-level education for some of those jobs. But with regard to the more entry-level jobs, particularly in manufacturing, it should help to bring employers to the table to talk about specific skills that they need, rather than broad educational credentials, so we can train to the task to be performed.”
 
Bump noted at least one recent effort by her office to help develop and fund an industry-academic training program. This past summer, Genzyme launched a pilot scholar-intern program in which 10 juniors from UMass’ campuses at Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth, and Lowell received paid internships at the biotech giant, plus $5,000 scholarships toward their senior years and “consideration” for hiring after graduation.
 
The Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation is looking to replicate that program with other life-sciences employers and schools statewide. In addition, the foundation is working with industry, universities, and community colleges to create a consortium to help the myriad sectors develop new programs and raise awareness about existing ones.
 
Among the consortium’s efforts will be to develop a database on the state’s far-flung life-sci training programs, Lance Hartford, the foundation’s executive director, told BRN.
 
“We need to do a better job of communicating what each of us is trying to do to create more of a system, rather than individual programs and courses that may or may not meet the industry’s needs,” Hartford told BRN. “We have been talking, but there hasn’t been a real opportunity to create a system.”
 
Hartford cited Mount Wachusett Community College, which last year launched a 64-credit, two-year degree program in biotechnology and biomanufacturing. Its goal is to teach students skills needed for technical worker jobs at a new $750 million, 400,000-square-foot biologics-manufacturing plant Bristol-Myers Squibb is set to open 20 miles west of the school on the 89-acre former site of the US Army base Fort Devens.
 
BMS projects the new facility will employ 350 people when it is completed in 2010 in return for $60 million in state and local incentives.
 
Nancy Snyder, president and CEO of Commonwealth Corporation, a Boston-based workforce-development consultancy, cited a program with another school, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, which retrained employees laid off by photo pioneer Polaroid Corp. for jobs at several life-sciences employers.
 
“We took people with a basic background in technology and up-skilled them, gave them skills in another technology, and virtually immediately placed all of those workers within a short period of time,” said Snyder.
 
WPI also requires graduating seniors to complete a project at an employer in the industry they are majoring.
 
And in a separate program, pharma giant Abbott has donated more than $2.5 million worth of equipment to UMass Dartmouth and Lowell among 43 colleges and universities nationwide.
 
The full report, Growing Talent: Meeting the Evolving Needs of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Industry, is available here.
 
“With this study as our guide,we’re confident that Massachusetts can grow the talent needed to grow the industry over the next couple of years,” J.Lynn Griesemer, executive director of the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute, told members of the life-sci center board and several state commissioners during a presentation at the board’s Sept. 16 meeting, held at the offices of the state Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.
 
Raising Projections
 
The Donahue Institute — UMass’ public service, outreach, and economic development arm — carried out the research that underpins the 26-page study. Completed over 15 months, the study was funded with $200,000 from the life-sci center and $50,000 from the biotech council. The sponsors hope the study will help them reverse the workforce issues cited in five reports since 2006 that have identified erosion in Massachusetts’ biotech leadership [BRN March 3, June 18, 2007].
 
Two key questions the study was designed to answer: How many workers will the industry need statewide by 2014? And what are the best ways of filling these jobs with people living in Massachusetts?
 
The report raised the number of net new jobs projected in preliminary findings released by the Donahue Institute in February. At that time, the institute projected 9,384 net new jobs would be created in the life sciences between 2006 and 2014 [BRN, Feb. 4].
 
Lynn Griesemer, the Donahue Institute’s executive director and associate vice president for economic development at UMass, told BioRegion News the revision reflected in part higher growth this year for the state’s life-science industry compared with the state’s overall labor force.
 
One example: The state’s professional, scientific, and technical employment category, which includes biotech jobs, rose by 5,100 jobs to 255,100 jobs between January and July.
 
And as of August, the state gained 7,800 jobs in the category year-to-year, from 248,200 to 256,000, accounting for much of the 11,300 statewide job gain over the past 12 months, according to figures available here from the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.
 
Overall, the state had 84,080 life-sci positions in 2006, according to Donahue research. A more current figure is not available from the more recent state-posted online data, which does not break down its broad employment categories into the specific life-science job categories that the institute found to be falling.
 
Using the specific categories, Donahue found that the occupational category with the greatest projected percentage increase in demand between 2006 and 2014 will be biochemists and biophysicists, up 28.9 percent from 1,454 to 1,875. Next-highest is projected to be medical scientists, up 25 percent from 3,672 to 4,589; followed by life, physical, and social-science technicians, up 10.3 percent from 3,621 to 3,994.
 
Other reasons for revising the job numbers upward, according to Griesemer, include the bio initiative and potential future mergers by state-based life-sci companies with out-of-state companies, which are expected to consolidate additional jobs in Massachusetts, she added.
 

“[W]ith regard to the more entry-level jobs, particularly in manufacturing, it should help to bring employers to the table to talk about specific skills that they need, rather than broad educational credentials, so we can train to the task to be performed.”

Griesemer said Gov. Patrick’s life-sciences initiative “is tremendous. I think it’s a critically important piece in stoking that demand. And I do think it’s the kind of thing the companies look for when they decide to expand or come to Massachusetts.”
 
The job forecast made by UMass’ Donahue is less than half of Gov. Patrick’s projection, which combines direct industry and indirect jobs to show as net gain from the measure of 250,000 jobs during the bio bill’s 10-year lifespan.
 
According to the report, some 80 percent of the new life-sciences jobs to be created by 2014 will require at least a four-year bachelor’s degree, up from about two-thirds of current life-sci jobs. That trend is at odds with one of the key arguments officials have made in expanding state spending for the life sciences in recent years: that the industry’s growth can generate large numbers of jobs for a broad range of students, including poorer, less-educated, and minority students.
 
To that end, the Health Careers Opportunity Program at UMass Boston trains about 50 Boston Public Schools students from disadvantaged backgrounds in grades six through nine in careers in medicine or public health.
 
Bump, the labor secretary, said in an interview the trend toward more bachelor-degree workers for life-sci jobs has resulted in a relatively high turnover of workers at entry levels.
 
“A lot of the folks who are entering with a bachelor’s degree are actually overeducated for the tasks that they’re being asked to perform, so the turnover there is pretty swift,” Bump said. “If instead of a bachelor’s degree you can get an associates [degree] or a credentialed person who would stay, because they see this is their career rather than aspiring to a higher level, then that’s a benefit for the employer community.”
 
But the report did not examine issues related to science, technology, engineering, and math — the so-called STEM disciplines — at the primary and secondary school levels. Those are among topics addressed in June by the state-created Commonwealth Readiness Project, which brought together more than 200 educators and business and community leaders to develop a strategic blueprint for the next phase of education reform.
 
The Readiness Project’s report, called the Patrick Administration’s Education Action Agenda and available here, recommended creating a Readiness Science and Math Teaching Fellowship Program to increase Massachusetts’ supply of qualified math and science teachers.
 
That program would offer 60 math and science majors an opportunity to earn master’s degrees by teaching in school districts with “significant” numbers of low-income students. The report also recommended creating a statewide teacher residency network similar to medical on-site residency programs and modeled after the successful Boston Teacher Residency Program.
 
Industry and community-college leaders have begun discussing how to address the needs for developing new educators as well as new workers for life-sci businesses, Griesemer said.
 
“Right now, the companies are saying, ‘Oh, but I need a bachelor’s degree.’ It’s not clear to us they really need a bachelor’s degree. They want a certain set of skills that come with a bachelor’s degree, and therefore they assume that a bachelor’s degree is the answer,” she said.
 
“The two questions that remain are, 1) Can we grow this industry in the direction of more commercialization, more manufacturing, and therefore create the kind of jobs that people with vocational-technical degrees and associates’ degrees are more able to fill? This is an area where some of the states around the country have done a good job, like California,” Griesemer told BRN.
 
“The second question is, can we take our vocational-technical programs, and especially our community college programs, and can we better match them with industry needs so the graduates of those programs are more able to go directly into the industry?” she added.
 
Addressing the first question in Massachusetts, Griesemer said, will require the state to spend its billion dollars of Initiative money and other resources on tax incentives, training programs, and broader industry-education partnerships. The second question, she said, will require more examination of how many new life-sci jobs can be filled by vocational-technical and community-college students.
 
“There is a combination of conversations that needs to take place here between industry and the community-college level,” Griesemer said.
 
But of the top-10 life-sciences occupations where demand in number of jobs is projected to grow the most by 2014, according to the report, nearly all require four years or more of college education. The state is expected to need 914 more medical scientists, followed by 707 computer software engineers and systems software developers, 579 lawyers, 537 computer systems analysts, and 520 computer software and applications engineers.
 
Also expected to be needed by 2014, according to the report, will be 421 biochemists and biophysicists, 373 life, physical and social science technicians, 278 electrical engineers, 264 accountants and auditors, and 250 management analysts.
 
Community colleges have another reason to worry. The study found that while eight community colleges offer life sciences degree programs, most are under-enrolled. The report did not furnish details, such as what percentage of seats goes unfilled in these programs, or discuss how the programs should be consolidated.
 
Two examples: Only about 25 students are enrolled in the biology programs at Springfield Technical Community College, Robert Dickerman, dean of the school of mathematics, science, and engineering, told the Republican of Springfield, Mass. By contrast, according to the Republican, UMass Amherst has 1,000 students, but must restrict enrollment in some popular classes because it only has 30 bio faculty members to teach courses.
 
“We want to make sure that whatever the community colleges and colleges are turning out is really meeting what the industry needs are,” Hartford said. I’ve been hearing that in other states, they’re able to do a certificate program and be able to put people into manufacturing jobs, and yet here in Massachusetts, a large part of the companies are picking up BAs.
 
“That’s the kind of thing that the secretary of education has to address,” Griesemer said.
 
But Paul Reville, commissioner of the state Executive Office of Education, told BRN after the presentation that Massachusetts has no plans to examine consolidation of community-college biotech programs, though the state will work to ensure those schools meet strategic regional needs.
 
“I’m not convinced that it [the number of community colleges with biology programs] is too much right now. What we’re hearing from employers is that they don’t have enough people coming through their pipeline right now. My guess is that if we’re effective in what we want to do in the K-12 sector, we’re going to have more demand at the community college level for these kinds of jobs,” Reville said in an interview.
 
To stoke that demand, Snyder said, she and other life-sci leaders have discussed with community colleges the possibility of emulating Middlesex Community College, which has helped organize consortia of employers in using training programs to find and develop workers. Such programs could benefit students and the schools by giving grads more options for job placement if one company struggles, she said.
 
Reville said discussions with community colleges should also include developing teachers to train the workers sought by industry: “We want to work closely with colleges and universities in preparing the kinds of teachers who are going to be capable, not only in a content sense of knowing what students need to know and be able to do to be successful, but also inspiring them with a sense of motivation and hope and possibility that these careers present.”
 
“We think too many of our teachers have gotten isolated in the work that they do in schools. One of the possibilities here is creating opportunities for teachers to get out into the field, out into [life-sci] companies, and get a real-time sense of what the jobs, what the possibilities are,” Reville added.
 
Revile said Massachusetts has one such program -- the Worcester Pipeline Collaborative, which links minority-group K-12 students to the UMass Medical School there — that could be duplicated elsewhere: “What we’re hearing from some of the executives is that we don’t have enough motivated and competent students coming out of K-12 and going into higher education with an orientation toward [life-sci] careers.
 
Developing more of those students will be a key benchmark for assessing the success and effectiveness of the life sciences talent report, Griesemer of UMass Donahue said.
 
“We really appreciate the new data because it adds some depth to work that has been ongoing,” Griesemer said. “We’re very excited about the depth that this report brings to our understanding of what’s going on. There is a great deal of opportunity that this industry presents to all of us in the commonwealth.”

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