The biotech jobs engine is coming to Boston’s neighborhoods.
Bioversity, a new training center under construction in Dorchester, last week hosted residents and job seekers at its future site, seven stops down the MBTA’s Red Line — and seemingly a world away — from the bustling industry hub in Cambridge’s Kendall Square.
“Is anyone here from Roxbury? Dorchester?” asked Ross Marshall, the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council’s head of community engagement, as hands shot up at an informational meeting.
An overflow crowd of more than 60 residents of all ages crammed into a conference room at Southline Boston, the renovated building that was long home to The Boston Globe and now houses a warren of offices, retail space, and biotech labs. MassBIO, the trade group launching the nonprofit Bioversity, had invited them to learn about the program, which will open its 4,000-square-foot training center early next year.
As the life sciences industry expands in the state and broadens its scope beyond drug discovery into biomanufacturing, employers are clamoring for more workers — including those without four-year-college degrees — to assist in the laboratory research and industrial processes that create life-extending therapies.
“We can use employees without science backgrounds as long as they’re willing to learn and want to help people,” said Krisha Panchalingam, director of lab and scientific operations for Portal Innovations, which provides contract lab space for biotechs in the Southline building.
Workers in lab operations, with titles like lab associate or lab technician, often help with purchasing compounds and raw materials, maintaining inventory, and servicing lab equipment, she said.
Bioversity recently began taking applications from residents with a high-school degree, and 45 applied within the first 48 hours. It plans to enroll 20 to 25 people for its first eight-week training class, which will start in January, and to train a total of about 100 throughout 2024.
The program, funded by employers, is free and will offer stipends for those accepted in the Monday-through-Thursday courses.
“This is a serious deal,” said Zach Stanley, the Bioversity executive director. “It’s 200 hours over eight weeks. You got to show up every day.... And opportunity for a well-paying job with full benefits awaits you upon completion of this program.”
Some who came to the informational meeting had only a vague idea of what goes on in the gleaming temples of drug development that have sprouted from Cambridge to Boston’s Seaport and Fenway districts. But they said they were intrigued by the promise of biotech — and starting pay of $18 to $25 an hour, more than they could earn in service jobs.
Rudell Moses, 23, of Mattapan, who now works temporary jobs in Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium, said his mother encouraged him to check out the Bioversity program because of his interest in science.
“I’ve always had an obsession with biochemistry,” he said.
His sister, 19-year-old Makayla Moses, said she’s majoring in nursing at Roxbury Community College but is open to the idea of shifting her sights to biotechnology for the right opportunity. “I want to work in health care, helping people,” she said. “It sounds really interesting.”
Some came to the informational session with practical concerns, such as the need for quiet space with internet connections outside their homes where they could do coursework without interruptions.
“As parents, we have children, we have teenagers,” said Trayce Booth, 58, a Dorchester mother and grandmother who once worked as a medical assistant. “We need space where we can focus on our work.”
Stanley, the Bioversity director, seemed overwhelmed by the turnout and enthusiasm. “I don’t know any of you yet,” he told the crowd. “But I know every one of you can succeed in this program. Because you showed up here, you showed up early. And that’s what we want to see.”
The center will grant certificates to those completing the training. It joins several other area organizations preparing workers for careers in biotech, including Year Up, MassBioEd (a MassBIO spinoff), LabCentral, and Jewish Vocational Services.
Matching workers from lower-income neighborhoods with biotech jobs is a focus of city and state government. At the BIO 2023 convention in Boston in June, Mayor Michelle Wu unveiled a workforce initiative to get 1,000 city residents trained and hired at biopharma operations by the end of 2025.
Later this year or early next year, Governor Maura Healey is expected to announce “Life Sciences 3.0″ — an extension, with new funding, of an initiative launched by former governor Deval Patrick and reauthorized by former governor Charlie Baker to build up the sector in the state. Healey has signaled her plan will focus on expanding the industry beyond Cambridge and Boston and tapping a blue-collar workforce.
At the Bioversity gathering, Dorchester resident Rudy Christmas, who already works as a scientist for a Cambridge biotech, fired up the audience when he talked about the dynamic field and the opportunity for advancement for life sciences employees.
Christmas, 42, said employees helping to develop cutting-edge treatments for patients can also find the work financially rewarding.
“Let’s be honest,” he said. “We’re all working for money. And there’s a lot of money in biotech.”
Robert Weisman can be reached at email@example.com.