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Life sciences companies say Massachusetts failing to train workforce

With 100,000 workers and growing, companies in the Massachusetts life sciences sector have urgent hiring needs. But according to a study paid for by the industry, meeting that demand is difficult because the state continues to face shortfalls in education and training.

The study was conducted for the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council and the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center.

The MLSC is a state body that will decide how a large portion of Gov. Deval Patrick’s $1 billion life sciences initiative is spent in the coming months. The MBC is the state’s major biotechnology industry group.

More than 11,000 net new life sciences jobs are projected for the industry between 2006 and 2014, and the sector continues to grow 45 percent more rapidly than other industry segments, according to the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute study.

Estimates also place the greater life sciences labor force at the state at around 100,000 workers, including biotechnology, clinical research, medical device, pharmaceutical and related jobs.

But the study identified increasing employer concern that there aren’t enough residents pursuing higher-education degrees and careers in life sciences.

Of particular concern: Employers are finding it increasingly difficult to fill clinical research, legal and regulatory and marketing and sales positions.

“Many students who enter college intending to study science are disadvantaged by inadequate preparation at the high school level,” the Donahue Institute concluded. “Providing remedial education at the undergraduate level is time-consuming and costly for both students and academic institutions.”

And while the state has a number of higher education and workforce training programs, a lack of coordination is preventing those programs from making maximum impact on the labor force, according to the study.

“The independent efforts of individual institutions and partnerships between companies and campuses are not sufficient to meet the collective needs of the industry as it grows and evolves,” the study concluded.

The report proposes a number of solutions, including:

  • Expansion of interdisciplinary training to produce more graduate students with multiple skills. Companies, for example, want more scientists who have training in business, management, information technology and regulatory affairs. The industry also wants interdisciplinary training for undergraduate students.
  • Beefing up and better target technical training, for both new workers and workers from other sectors who can be retrained to handle biomanufacturing jobs, such as chemical and food processing industry workers.
  • Focusing on adding and enhancing science curriculum for grades K-12.
  • Adding more student internships
  • Promoting life science careers to college students and career councilors.

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