The Precarious State of Life Sciences Employment in Massachusetts

The Precarious State of Life Sciences Employment in Massachusetts

Several weeks ago, MassBioEd, the sister organization of MassBio that focuses on workforce development, released its Annual Massachusetts Life Sciences Employment Report. The 60-page report offers a look into the local industry’s impressive history of growth over the past decade while putting the past year under the microscope. The report paints a clear picture of an industry that’s growing faster than the workforce that maintains it—an issue that has become abundantly clear over the past several years. It’s an issue that doesn’t just impact one subsector of the industry—it reaches across verticals, impacting the most junior positions through the most senior leadership roles.

While we’ve made incredible strides in the name of science, we have not done the same for science education. The consequence is that the Massachusetts life sciences industry does not have enough workers to maintain the level of growth it’s experiencing, and the concern is real.   As recruiters, we are on the front lines of this issue. It’s a challenge that we face daily with all clients and all roles, giving us a unique vantage point.

MassBioEd offers a multi-pronged approach to remedy the issue, with the understanding there is no quick fix. The talent shortage is a deep-seated issue that requires far-reaching support.  For that reason, report author Karla Talanian, MassBioEd’s Director of Talent & Workforce Development, encourages readers to engage in conversation on “how to grow our talent pipeline and maintain the rate of advancement in the life sciences.”

A few things to note. The report talks about life sciences employment, it’s not just talking about people working directly for biopharma companies (industry jobs). It’s also talking about employees that focus on life sciences in academia, corporations, or clinical labs (non-industry life sciences jobs). The research is primarily based on 2018 data, unless otherwise noted.

The Facts: There are many variables that have led to the life sciences talent shortage in the US and in Massachusetts. In order to fully understand the scope of the issue, we have highlighted 10 key facts from the report along with some additional research.

  • Fact 1: The effect of the life sciences on the overall labor economy is 2.5 times greater for Massachusetts than the next closest states.
    • How is this calculated? The data compares the number of advertised jobs with every 10,000 employed persons in the state. For every 10,000 employed persons in Massachusetts, there were 108 non-industry life science jobs posted in 2018. The runner up was Maryland with 42. For industry jobs the number was 80 jobs, and the runner up was New Jersey with 33.
  • Fact 2: The past decade has seen a 35% increase in life sciences employment in Massachusetts with the most growth being in R&D (up 53%).
    • For comparison purposes, in the past decade overall employment in Massachusetts has risen by 12%. (US Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • Fact 3: Job growth in the industry is projected to keep rising over the next 5 years–12,000 new jobs. That’s up from 74,000 total jobs today, which gives us 86,000 total jobs by 2024.
  • Fact 4: Data from The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NEAP) says that between 2009 and 2015, U.S. elementary and middle school students have only somewhat increased in proficiency in science, and high school students have pretty much stayed the same in proficiency. In essence, U.S. students are not receiving better preparation to pursue scientific careers.
  • Fact 5: Since 2010 the demand for High School and Associate level candidates in the life sciences has significantly increased both Nationwide and in Massachusetts (128% and 140%, respectively). Yet the number of community college graduates has not increased.
  • Fact 6: The demand for Bachelor level candidates in the life sciences has also steadily increased since 2010, yet lately the number of college graduates has become stagnant. Note that between 2010 and 2017 this number was steadily increasing.
    • The other issue is that while the number of students studying life sciences related majors has increased, it’s still nowhere near the demand.
    • And the other issue with this subsector is that many students with science related majors do not choose life sciences related career paths, rather they go into computer science or healthcare.
  • Fact 7: The trend continues at the Master’s level, where the demand far outweighs the supply. For this subsector, the number of students pursuing STEM related degrees has significantly increased, but these students still make up such a small number of students pursuing degrees at the Master’s level.
  • Fact 8: The industry is reliant upon doctoral level candidates to take on leadership roles, but the number of graduates pursuing the PhD level course of study is projected to remain the same if not possibly decline.
  • Fact 9: Foreign-born talent plays an important role in Science & Engineering Occupations in the US. In 2016, 23.3% of employees in those occupations were foreign-born (v. 29.5% in Massachusetts).
  • Fact 10: The report also featured the results from a comprehensive employment survey of life science companies of all sizes in Massachusetts. Not surprisingly, most respondents said that competition was their biggest obstacle in hiring and retaining talent.

The Good News

Before we go further into what appears to be a grim outlook, let’s take a step back to think about the bigger picture. The talent shortage is happening, in part, because the life sciences industry is growing so quickly.  Growth in the life science industry means more lives saved, healthier people, longer lives.  And even better news–Massachusetts is at the helm.

CBRE’s US Life Sciences Clusters Report states that Boston-Cambridge is the leading life science market in the nation.  MassBio’s Life Science Industry Snapshot offers a few other bragging points:

  • Four of the top five NIH funded hospitals are here in Massachusetts.
  • $4.8B in venture capital investments were made in Massachusetts life science in 2018 (an increase by five-fold since 2009).
  • 18 life science IPOs in 2018 were headquartered in Massachusetts.
  • Massachusetts researchers are currently researching or developing products for over 400 medical indications.

The digital revolution has propelled the industry even further over the last two decades. With the introduction of new modalities, the industry is on pace to continue its rapid growth here in Massachusetts and across the U.S….unless there aren’t enough workers.

The Bad News

If the talent shortage continues, then that rapid pace of discovering cures and sending therapies to market will surely slow down.

The authors of the MA Life Sciences Report offer the following warning:

“In short, there is no end in sight to the talent shortage when only traditional means of preparing tomorrow’s workforce are utilized. The future of this industry depends on a robust pipeline of talented and passionate people to make the next generation of scientific discoveries and technical breakthroughs.”

The Action Steps

The report does not end there. The authors provide clear action steps to help remedy the issue. The following recommendations were made:

  • Strengthening partnerships between industry and academia to help bridge the gap between what students learn and what employers are seeking.
  • Generating more awareness around the industry early on in students’ academic careers.
  • Creating more opportunities in industry exploration for college students studying a science-related field.
  • Providing more support to pre-and postdoctoral students, who often struggle transitioning between academia and industry.
  • Offering more professional development opportunities to existing employees.
  • Strengthening workers’ soft skills, which do not always come naturally to scientists.
  • Implementing different types of training methods that cater to non-traditional workers.

Also, just a note that while not identified under the list of recommendations the report does also say that we must continue to support immigration so that foreign-born workers can grow the workforce.

The report makes it clear that there is a real need to create more awareness around the industry at all levels. In The Boston Globe’s coverage of the report, Jonathan Saltzman hones in on the lack of exposure at the high school level. There is also a glaring need to pursue non-traditional training and development methods, a topic that was recently explored in depth by Biospace. The article offers an extensive list of ways for life science workers to enhance their professional development.

For an industry that is making such strides in technology, it’s being lagging in workforce development. The Baker Administration is addressing these concerns in its latest economic development plan. The plan focuses on workforce development and calls for steps to build on the growth in several sectors including life sciences and healthcare. Organizations like MassBioEd and Science Club for Girls are also working hard to be part of the solution.  Still, there is more to be done.

Our Take

As recruiters, we are conduits between these employers struggling to find the best talent and the talent pool. Our job is to not just place candidates into somewhat suitable roles; we want to make the best match for both client and candidate. Yet, with the narrow pool of candidates that can be a challenge.

In fact, we have people on staff whose entire job is to scour the web to widen that pool—they’re called sourcers. We do have a vast database of candidates who submit their resumes through our website and other sources, but still many of the jobs we are tasked with filling are extremely specialized. Thus, we look to our data wizards (the sourcers) to identify appropriate candidates with Boolean searches, plug-ins, and other complex methods. Through these methodologies and other candidate search tactics we’re able to find candidates who aren’t actively applying to jobs or candidates who may not have put the full extent of their experience on LinkedIn.

There’s no guarantee we can find local candidates, so sometimes we are quite literally plucking candidates from their lab elsewhere in the US to fill a role here in Massachusetts. Since life sciences isn’t exactly the most remote-friendly work, employers are then faced with providing relocation packages. For some of our smaller clients, it can be hard to compete with the larger companies in this area.

We’re also seeing more candidates have two or three good offers to choose from, which means our clients need to sell their company as a great place to work.  Again, this can be a challenge for some of the smaller companies who can’t offer the same benefits as larger ones can. Those smaller employers try to emphasize culture and hope that they can bring someone on board who really believes in the mission.

The need for stronger connections between academia and industry, and better career development is apparent in our everyday work. We see everything from poorly formatted resumes and ill-prepared interviewees to talented scientists simply lacking direction—all shortcomings that could be solved with some of the solutions mentioned in the report.

We have a unique vantage point of the industry and it’s pretty clear the talent shortage and the lack of industry exposure is causing a strain not just here in Massachusetts, but all across the U.S. We will work hard to be a part of the solution by continuing to speak about scientific career paths, by volunteering with science education programs, and by being an advocate for the industry in our professional and personal circles. What will you do to help? Let us know!

Biotech’s Winter Week Off: A Time to Rest and Recharge

Biotech’s Winter Week Off: A Time to Rest and Recharge

Many biotech companies close between the week of Christmas and New Years, effectively gifting their employees an extra week of vacation time. While some may still have lab responsibilities or projects they need to check in on, this still leaves plenty of extra time to rest and recharge so you can start 2020 off fresh! It may be tempting to try to charge through your to-do list or cram in extra errands and family time, but we encourage you to be mindful about how you spend your extra hours and use them as a way to treat yourself after a long year of hard work! Here are some suggestions to help you make the most of your time off.

Before trying to do anything more productive, take some time to literally put your feet up! Many scientists are on their feet all day in the lab, which can take its toll on your feet, legs, and overall physical comfort. Try the simple yoga pose Legs up the Wall to help reduce swelling, calm the nervous system, and aid in overall relaxation. 5 Benefits of Legs Up the Wall Posture. Of course, putting your feet up on the couch could feel good, too; if you’re looking for some good shows to catch up on, the SciBio team has been enjoying The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Will and Grace, and Derry Girls, as well as some throwback classics like Seinfeld.

Boston, Cambridge, and the surrounding area is a hub of biotech and pharmaceutical companies, which attracts many scientists and professionals to the area. If you are one of the many who relocated to Massachusetts in 2019, the extra days off can be a great way to explore your new home! This list features the 25 Best Places to Visit in Massachusetts while this one is targeted at families: 30 Must-Do Holiday Events & Activities in New England.

Having more time off during the shorter winter days also offers the opportunity to spend more time outside! Being in nature is calming and has far reaching health benefits (How Does Nature Impact Our Wellbeing), but it’s hard to get outside after work when the sun sets at 4:30 pm. You don’t need to be a winter sports enthusiast to enjoy nature this time of year. You could walk around Boston Common, skate at Frog Pond, or check out one of these hiking trails. You can find more suggestions on this list of Best Winter Activities in Boston. If you are into winter sports, then you are in the right spot as Boston is only a few hours from some of the best skiing/riding in the country.

Of course, one of the first thing that comes to mind when you hear “rest and recharge” is sleep! While it may be tempting to sleep in during a vacation week, it is more beneficial long term to keep within the same general sleep and wake times. However, you can take some steps to make that sleep more restful! Consider keeping a notebook by your bed to list lingering projects and things you need to take care of the next day before you go to sleep so that they don’t keep you up at night. Make sure your phone is on airplane mode or Do Not Disturb; although late night and early morning emails are commonplace in our start-up culture, protecting your sleep time is paramount! Also, take some time to do a sleep analysis of your bedroom: check for bothersome noises, annoying street lights that shine in your eyes, or a bed that is too hot or cold. Adding a sound machine, black out curtains, and adding or removing a throw blanket can go a long way towards helping you get a better night’s rest! It may take some experimenting to find the right combination that works for you, but we know you have those skills. Check out some other tips here: 17 Tips to Sleep Better.

Even if you don’t have the whole week off, we hope some of these ideas will help you make the most of the days you do have off. Let us know what you’re planning on doing this winter break!


Managers: Preparing for the Year Ahead

Managers: Preparing for the Year Ahead

For managers, the new year is typically a mix of emotions. On the one hand, it’s an exciting time as people feel more energized after the holiday break and are enthusiastic about the year ahead. It can even bring a sense of relief–the prior year is rearview and there’s an opportunity for a fresh start.

On the other hand, the new year can be daunting with new initiatives and budgets, and the pressure to make it all happen quickly. On top of that, there’s the stress of reviews and hiring that typically come this time of year. In general, the new year brings a renewed sense of pressure to keep everyone above and below happy.

With some preparation, the New Year doesn’t have to be so overwhelming. You can harness that New Year optimism by making resolutions that will allow you to start on the right foot and stay there. Let us help you get started. We suggested a few resolutions for managers and pulled helpful links.

Give effective feedback during performance reviews. In 2020, think of ways you can give your employees more effective feedback on their performance. If there is something your employee needs to work on, remember to focus on changeable behaviors rather than personality traits and work together to brainstorm a clear action plan for improvement. Even if your review is positive, try to be as specific as possible so that the compliments feel genuine and personalized.

Show your team you appreciate their hard work. Research shows that people do more for people who appreciate them. Everybody gets busy with the fast pace of biotech, so try setting a monthly calendar reminder to bring in a treat for the team or add a final to-do list item after a presentation to thank the team members who contributed.

Update your job descriptions. In 2020, try adding a sentence or two to your job descriptions that give it some flair. Most job descriptions are fairly generic and don’t highlight much of what sets your company apart or give job seekers an idea of the company culture.

Plan the recruitment cycle for the year. Don’t get caught scrambling to fill a role during the busy season. Start the recruitment cycle ahead of time so you can give some thought to who you are looking to add to your team. You will be able to find better candidates by thinking about things like cultural fit ahead of time.

Make time to review the accomplishments and the goals of the department. In the fast-paced world of biotech, it can be easy to get caught in maintenance mode where you are constantly executing. The New Year is the perfect time to reflect on all that your team has done, and plan for the year ahead.

Do any of these resolutions resonate with you more than others? If so, why?

Good luck!

The New Year: Thinking About Your Next Career Move

The New Year: Thinking About Your Next Career Move

The other day we got a call from a candidate who wanted to get on our radar for an impending career move. When we asked his time-frame, we were surprised to hear him say 2021. Often times we hear from candidates when they’re long past this pondering phase and more into the get-me-out-of-here phase. So kudos to that young man for having such foresight. 

While that extended time-line is extreme, our candidate does have the right idea to “always be looking.” While no job is ever 100% safe, that is the name of the game in the life sciences and I’m sure he knows that. In our industry, it’s important to be cognizant that things could change at the drop of a dime. That being said, you don’t need to be unnecessarily submitting job applications every day. So if everything is seemingly fine, when should you start the process of thinking about your next move? 

The new year is always a good time to take stock in your current situation. Typically this is the time of year that everyone is doing a little self-reflection and making goals, including the companies themselves. It’s also the time that hiring managers post the majority of their openings and get ready for performance reviews. 

To really make this analysis successful treat it like an exercise in data collection. Consider even assigning each piece of “data” a number value. For example, if you’re happy with your manager then maybe you assign it an 8 because that’s a crucial part of your happiness. But if the commute is horrible then maybe assign it a 2 because that’s unlikely to change. For the more data-driven, assigning numbers might offer a more objective view. 

Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Write down all of the things you like about the job. Some questions to consider:
    • Are you excited about going to work each day?
    • Do you like the research/product?
    • Do you feel challenged? Supported? Appreciated? 
    • Do you enjoy your colleagues? 
    • Do you believe in senior management?
  • Write down what you dislike about the jobs. When writing these down, also note if you see a course of action for these things to change, i.e. there may be no telling if a bad manager will leave, but lack of resources might change if the company just received funding.  
  • Write down your career goals, and frame them as SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely) goals. 
    • Given the climate of your company, how likely you are to attain these goals this year?
  • Think about your performance review. 
    • How do you think it will go? 
    • What would you say for self-evaluation and company evaluation? 
  • Review the past year of company business:
    • Most life sciences companies have a section on the website for investors and media that include financials, filings, stock information, SEC filings etc. 
    • Also, take a look at the jobs board–a robust jobs board is usually a good thing. 
    • Did senior management turnover or did they stay? 
    • Did people get promoted and did jobs get added?
  • Be sure to keep company business on your radar:
    • Know when research readouts and clinical trial results are set to be revealed.
    • Chat with employees from other departments–they might have more insight into how their team is doing.
    • If your company is a service provider, keep a close eye on your clients and how they’re doing. 
  • Take a peak at what else is out there. 
    • Review job boards.
    • Stay on top of industry news, especially in your location. Is a new company  moving in nearby and are they hiring?   
    • Keep your eyes on competitors.
    • Is there a technology making headlines that you’re interested in? 
    • Chat with colleagues at other companies.
    • Attend networking events to meet folks outside of your usual circle.
  • Talk with a trusted friend or family member. Sometimes they can give you a better read on the situation than you realize. 

As you’re collecting this data, you’ll likely start to get a sense of how you’re feeling about things.  However, it’s important to also take some time to review it altogether. This is where assigning number values can come in handy.  

If you see lots of low numbers or any of your findings gives you red flags, then it’s time to think about next steps. Begin by reaching out to a career coach or a recruiter. Sign up for job board notifications and go to networking events. 

If you complete your research feeling good about your role and the future of the company, then maybe a job change is put on the back burner. Only you can make that decision. But if any of the above topics raise small red flags, don’t ignore them. You may not want to go into a full out job search, but put the feelers out there. Maybe you don’t make the move until 2021 or maybe you end up finding the dream job you didn’t realize you wanted.

Practicing Gratitude: A Game-Changer For Your Career

Practicing Gratitude: A Game-Changer For Your Career

Gratitude is an incredibly powerful, positive emotion that is seldom experienced by so many of us who are caught up in the day to day demands of life. The rise of consumerism, never ending to-do lists and the ceaseless pursuit of enhanced social mobility often means that gratitude is displaced by incessant ambition and this isn’t healthy.

As Thanksgiving approaches, we hear the words thankful and grateful a little more. From #grateful social media posts to customer appreciation pies, expressing gratitude is in the air this time of year. That’s part of what makes it such a special time.  At the same rate, practicing everyday gratitude has become a more prominent cultural paradigm. Perhaps it’s because of the rise in studies on the science of gratitude, or maybe it’s just social media. Whatever the reason, with 7,000 listings on Amazon for “gratitude journal,” it’s safe to say our culture is adopting the practice of gratitude. 

Why is practicing gratitude helpful every day and not just the last 6 weeks of the year? According to The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley, “gratitude may be associated with many benefits for individuals, including better physical and psychological health, increased happiness and life satisfaction, decreased materialism, and more.” Gratitude helps people feel more optimistic, and it helps us slow down in this rapid-paced world of ours.

Taking time to acknowledge the things you’re grateful for can be a game-changer for your overall wellbeing and health, but it can also make a big difference in your career. Here’s how:

For the job-seeker: It’s easy to lose faith in a job search, but this is where a gratitude journal can come in helpful. Take time to write down the successes of your search. Try to view setbacks in a positive light. For example, if you went in for a second-round interview but didn’t make the next cut, remind yourself that you got farther than most candidates. Acknowledge that you are doing better than when you started the search. Here are a few more tips on staying grateful during a job search. 

For the manager: According to PayScale’s report on employee engagement and retention, feeling appreciated at work is the biggest influencer on employee satisfaction, and underappreciated employees are much more likely to leave the company. So taking a few minutes to show your staff gratitude year-round will improve company culture while also making you feel good. PayScale offers more insight into workplace gratitude here and here

For anyone at any point in their career: Regardless of your career status, take a few minutes to remind yourself of your accomplishments. Not only will it help you work harder, but it can also help you be better. This article from Peter Bregman at the Harvard Business Review says that “identifying the things we are grateful for mirrors the areas we are hoping to improve.” According to Bergman “your path to improvement is hidden in your pleasure, not your discontent.” The Muse provides a handy infographic of why gratitude is so important. 

Do you practice gratitude every day? If so, what do you do? Sound off below.