Mayor Michelle Wu unveiled a plan Monday to plug more Boston workers into the growing biotech industry, launching a workforce initiative aimed at getting 1,000 city residents trained and hired at drug research and production labs and other life sciences operations by the end of 2025.
The city government will initially commit $4 million to the program, funded through grants from the city’s Neighborhood Jobs Trust and the federal American Rescue Plan, but the investment is expected to grow.
Wu made the announcement, surrounded by industry and workforce training leaders, at the BIO 2023 convention, which convened Monday morning at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. She welcomed more than 18,000 biotech executives and investors from around the world to Boston.
The mayor is using the forum at BIO, the largest international biotech gathering, to put her administration behind a broader effort by the industry and state government to bring more employees into biotech, including workers of color, women, and immigrants without four-year-degrees.
“It’s a powerful statement to kick off this week focusing on our local workforce...” Wu said. “We have everything we need here in Boston ... to make sure all of our residents can share in the incredible opportunities” presented by the area’s expanding cluster of drug makers.
As the industry builds more labs to produce smaller batches of biologics for clinical trials, and larger biomanufacturing plants for approved medicines, biotech startups and established companies find it harder to fill jobs and need more workers without four-year college or advanced degrees.
Reshma Kewelramani, chief executive of Boston biotech Vertex, who joined the mayor at Monday’s announcement, said her company has about 400 well-paying jobs that don’t require four-year degrees.
Gaelle Akaliza, an immigrant from Rwanda who went through a program sponsored by the job training organization Year-Up, now works in quality assurance at Vertex. She’s also pursuing a college degree in health care management and communications.
“We have a shared objective,” said Kendalle Burlin O’Connell, chief executive of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, who is playing host at the BIO convention, “making sure that every resident in every neighborhood of Boston and the Commonwealth can see themselves working in a career in the life sciences and creating the pathways to getting these folks there.”
Employment in the state’s life sciences sector climbed 14.6 percent to more than 132,000 jobs from 2019 to 2022, according to a report last week from the Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation. The sector — including biotech and medical technology — is projected to grow by another 32 percent by 2032, adding nearly 42,000 jobs, the report said.
Year-Up founder Gerald Chertavian said his group hopes to serve as a kind of general contractor for Boston’s workforce initiative, working with employers through the trade group MassBio to ensure that job training efforts include the right curricula and skills needed in biotech jobs.
One challenge for many low-income Boston residents is their unfamiliarity with the biotech industry, even though hundreds of employers are based in Boston and neighboring Cambridge, said the Rev. Willie Bodrick, senior pastor at Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury and founder of the American City Coalition.
“Many people are cut off from biotech because they don’t know what biotech is,” Brodrick said. His coalition’s Roxbury Works initiative hopes to “demystify the industry” for Boston youth, he said, working in partnership with two other groups, the biotech education foundation and LabCentral Ignite.
Robert Weisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.