The Precarious State of Life Sciences Employment in Massachusetts Part 1: The Annual Massachusetts Life Sciences Employment Report Abridged

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.”

In this series, we start by providing a cliff notes version of the report by highlighting the top facts. We then move to an analysis and broader look in the second part. We close out by following up on Talanian’s request to talk about the outlook with our take on the matter.

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.

lab experiment

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.

So now we have the facts. What does this all mean? In the next part, we dive into a short analysis of the situation at hand.

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