MassBio Report Highlights Hiring Struggles in the Life Sciences Industry

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The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio) recently surveyed 129 biopharma companies for its 2022 Massachusetts Life Sciences Workforce Analysis Report. Although MassBio previously anticipated that the life sciences industry in the state would grow by 40,000 jobs between 2021 and 2024, it seems the industry isn’t sure who will fill these roles.

The report painted a dire picture of the current hiring landscape. An alarming 94.2% of survey respondents reported having difficulty hiring experienced workers. For 73.5%, these struggles extended to finding even qualified entry-level candidates. A small applicant pool, lack of experience and lack of industry knowledge were among the challenges listed by companies. Notably, the most difficult entry-level position for the respondents to fill was that of research associate.

Although not included in MassBio’s survey or its data readout, there may be other lurking factors that are driving a small applicant pool. BioSpace recently conducted a Diversity and Inclusion Survey which found that diversity is an important factor for 85% of respondents when considering a new position, with the percentage rising for people of color, women and people who identify as LGBTQ+. Additionally, current employees felt that their company’s overall commitment to diversity and inclusion has fallen over the past two years.

Case in point, BioSpace recently interviewed Latinx employees in the life sciences industry who face unique challenges and barriers to success. The interviewees voiced concerns about lack of awareness of life sciences roles, challenges in getting the necessary education and unequal pay as suspected barriers to this ethnic group’s entry into the life sciences industry.

MassBio focused on the fact that many firms are unwilling to stray from traditional hiring practices. About 70% of surveyed firms noted that they prefer entry-level applicants to have a bachelor’s degree but only 58.8% of those companies require the degree, meaning that although it’s preferred, it isn’t always necessary for the job; in fact, one-third of employers surveyed said the required level of education for entry-level candidates is an associate’s degree.

Additionally, many companies look specifically for four-year degree holders who have graduated from a STEM-oriented program, shutting out potential candidates who hold a degree in say, marketing or accounting. These companies also tend to not recruit from community colleges, when according to the report, Middlesex Community College leads the charge in biotechnology training and community colleges generally have the highest number of non-four-year life sciences degree programs.

Luckily, MassBio has outlined some solutions for life sciences companies. One proposed fix is to bring education about these jobs to potential candidates and instill classroom and hands-on experience to students geared toward biotech jobs. Companies also suggested that perhaps mentorships, career days and wage reimbursement could help fill in the roles. Overall, the solutions are geared toward offering more STEM programs in the region, though a brief aside in the report states that recruiting disadvantaged people could present a significant opportunity to advocate for inclusive workforce development planning.

The question seems might not be who will fill these roles but how companies will keep them in these roles. “Talent wars” or the battle to recruit or poach talented candidates between life sciences companies is cited as a factor for Massachusetts’ loss of employable people. These talent wars have driven companies to offer employees more money, better benefits and hybrid work models to attract and retain them. Only time will tell if it will be enough.

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