Biopharma Expects To Grow, But Faces Talent Troubles

Most biopharmaceutical companies in Massachusetts expect to grow their workforces over the next year, but many have also had a hard time filling open positions, according to a new industry report.

The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council previously projected that the industry could require up to 40,000 new workers by 2024, and an analysis BW Research Partnership conducted for MassBio calls for the field to “re-think the current workforce development pipeline,” by prioritizing regionalization and diversity.

“Given that employers project to see growth across several different entry- and non-entry-level positions over the next couple years as well as the significant hiring difficulties attributed to a small applicant pool and lack of experienced or qualified applicants, the life sciences industry will require significant workforce development support mechanisms from the state, educational institutions, and other workforce development stakeholders,” reads the report, released Wednesday.

The life sciences sector is a significant force in the state’s economy, with about 106,600 jobs across Massachusetts as of 2021, up by nearly 60,500 jobs since 2006. It’s also been singled out for major state investments — in 2018, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a life sciences bill that called for $473 million in capital spending over five years.

Short-term strategies recommended in the report include adding biopharma-specific courses or modules to existing four-year degrees like accounting or marketing; scaling up short-term, customized certification programs; increasing hands-on and lab experience in educational settings; and expanding internships with life-sciences company.

On the longer-term front, the report suggests partnering with higher education institutions that serve minority populations, developing “a central organizing workforce institute run by MassBio,” and seeking financial support from the state for both of those efforts.