On Oct. 21, MIT Sloan hosted the latest in a series of discussions on the inclusion innovation economy to consider how leaders can capitalize on this growth to foster inclusivity.
As the industry grows and even flourishes due to the pandemic, new hiring practices have to grow with it, they said. Ultimately, long-entrenched hiring systems need to meet people where they are; the onus needn’t be on prospective employees who are hindered by a lack of access to higher education, transportation, or job postings.
“We’re going to convene a working group to bridge the gap between demand and supply with industry partners. Let’s go literally company by company: Define exactly what your needs are. I want them to commit to [a certain number of jobs] on an annual basis so we can forecast,” Turner said.
For instance, Turner is working on a bridge-building program where he introduces potential employees to companies based on the companies’ needs, fostering accountability in hiring.
The pandemic has been devastating for U.S. employment, but the life sciences industry has only grown. While the private sector saw a 5.1% overall decline in its employment base in 2020, this industry grew its base by 1.4%. It also added 2.53 million unique job postings from 2017 to 2020, according to the 2021 Life Sciences Workforce Trends Report.
Malia Lazu,a former Berkshire Bank executive vice president and current MIT Sloan lecturer who focuses on inclusion in the innovation economy, moderated the conversation. Aisha Francis, CEO of the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology; Boston City Councilor-at-Large Julia Mejia; and Kenn Turner, CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, joined her.
“There shouldn’t be a mismatch between enrichment opportunities and the available youth whom we know need exposure,” Francis said.
Here are four ideas for driving inclusivity in this rapidly accelerating field.
Meet untapped talent where they live and work The life sciences industry can be insular and hive-like: Kendall Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts; California’s Silicon Valley. Forward-thinking employers will mine talent beyond their neighborhoods. One idea is to consider building plants and factories in underrepresented areas with cheaper real estate and overlooked workers, Turner said.
Related Articles In fact, many entry-level jobs originate in biomanufacturing. These jobs can start at $50,000 per year, “with upward mobility and benefits and educational training. You can go from a job to a career in the life sciences — but it requires training,” he said.
Training opportunities should meet people where they live, because commuting isn’t feasible for people who might juggle multiple jobs or lack access to transportation. For instance, Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology will relocate within Boston from the South End to Nubian Square in Roxbury, where about half of residents are Black, compared to 23% citywide. “Our goal is to center skills training in life sciences in areas where many people are working low-wage jobs with little potential for growth,” Francis said. “Skills training can be … hard to find. A few miles can take 30 minutes on mass transit. It’s actually inconvenient. Offer workforce training in the life sciences in the community where people are underemployed and have untapped talent.”
As such, the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology is building an associate’s degree in biotechnology, focusing on manufacturing. “Our responsibility is to make sure people are being trained for industry roles that actually exist, and what has happened in the biotech space is that they all say ‘bachelor’s degree required,’” Francis said. “There’s degree inflation and degree discrimination at play. Release the minimum requirements of a bachelor’s degree for roles that don’t need it.”
In highly educated areas, most life sciences jobs require a bachelor’s degree at minimum — but that’s not always necessary. Loosen hiring requirements