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Report: Colleges aren’t doing enough to prepare students for Mass. life-sciences jobs

Increasingly, employers seek applicant with expertise in multiple fields — those with deep knowledge of molecular biology who can also write computer code, for example.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff/File 2018/Globe staff

Life-sciences jobs are opening up faster in Massachusetts than employers can fill them, according to a report that says colleges aren’t preparing enough qualified graduates for such positions.

Despite a nationwide push in recent years to encourage young people to pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics, or STEM, the growth of life-sciences jobs in the state far outstrips the growth in the number of qualified candidates, the report says.

As a result, it often takes more than three months to fill openings as employers compete against one another for promising candidates, according to the report by the nonprofit Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation, a sister organization of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council industry group.


The number of job postings that require degrees ranging from an associate to a doctorate has risen between 100 percent and 140 percent since 2010. Meanwhile, the number of graduates with those degrees has increased at a much slower pace.

Buried deep in the report is an explanation that educators and parents might want to clip and tape to refrigerators.

“Very few high school students know that the life sciences industry exists,’” the author of the 58-page report says. “Even students who enjoy and excel in science and plan to attend college as biology or chemistry majors typically assume their only career path is in health care.”

Indeed, as much as Massachusetts has become the envy of other states for its booming biopharma cluster, the message isn’t necessarily reaching high school students.

“With the exception of students with a personal connection to the industry, there is little awareness of career options in science outside of becoming a doctor or a nurse,” the report says.

Karla Talanian, director of talent and workforce development at MassBioEd and the author of the report, said her organization plans to do more work with high schools in the state to expose kids to the life sciences.


Overall, the Massachusetts life-sciences industry has experienced a 35 percent increase in jobs over the past decade, with employment reaching a record-breaking 74,000 last year, the study found. That number is projected to reach 86,000 by 2024.

Increasingly, employers are seeking job candidates with expertise in two or more fields.

For example, more drug companies wanted applicants with a deep knowledge of molecular biology who can also write computer code to decipher huge quantities of genomic data, according to the report.

No state comes close to Massachusetts, proportionately, when it comes to seeking people for jobs in the life sciences.

Massachusetts companies, colleges, and clinical laboratories posted 103 openings for every 10,000 employed people in 2018. The state with the next-highest total was Maryland, where companies, colleges, and labs posted 42 openings for every 10,000 employed people.

Jonathan Saltzman
can be reached at jsaltzman@globe.com.