MassBioEd Report Finds Hiring Practices in BioPharma Industry Disadvantage Community College Graduates

Jan 09, 2018

Despite graduates having desired industry skills, they are no longer leading candidates for employment due to new degree requirements

January 9, 2018 (CAMBRIDGE, MA) -  The MassBioEd Foundation today released a new report, Community College Biotechnology Graduates: A Path Forward to Careers and Higher Learning, that finds hiring practices in the biopharmaceutical industry have shifted in the last few years, disadvantaging community college graduates. Despite these graduates having the required skills for entry-level positions – competencies that were developed with input from industry – they are less likely to be considered for employment, as the industry has raised the education requirements.

The report, funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor through the Guided Pathways to Success in STEM (GPSTEM)project, reviewed core competencies required of graduates of community college biotechnology programs and found they aligned well with skills required by industry for all types of biotechnology technician positions. From 2011 to 2016, the increase in graduates from such programs matched the increase in entry level jobs requiring such skills. However, in the same period, employers increased the degree requirements for such positions, with a 44% increase in the number of biotechnology technician jobs requiring bachelor’s degree compared to a 16% increase in associate’s degree. 

“At a time when community colleges increased programming to meet industry needs, the industry raised the hiring bar to the disadvantage of community college graduates with desirable skills received from industry-endorsed programs,” said Peter Abair, Executive Director of the MassBioEd Foundation.  “We recommend an industry ‘reset’ with regard to hiring for technician positions, by increasing awareness about the competencies of these graduates and increasing the availability of internships for community college students.”

Although the report calls for hiring managers in the biopharma industry to modify recruitment preferences to improve employment prospects for community college graduates, it also provides recommendations for community colleges to adapt to new industry standards. Recognizing that most entry level positions in the biopharma industry now require a bachelor’s degree, the report suggests improved articulation agreements between two- and four-year public colleges through the state’s very successful MassTransfer process. This, in addition to greater integration of “soft skills” training in community college programs, will help ensure graduates meet the requirements needed to fill industry jobs.

"The MassBioEd Foundation has been an extraordinary partner in our work to align degree requirements with the needs of the biotech industry," said Carlos E. Santiago, Commissioner of Higher Education for Massachusetts. "This report highlights the need for additional work to make sure that students who have invested in their education find career opportunities waiting for them upon graduation. I look forward to working with the Foundation and biotech industry employers to enhance and refine our efforts, particularly with regard to biotech transfer pathways."

The release of A Path Forward coincides with the endorsement of 15 community college programs through the MassBioEd Biotechnology Endorsement Program, which ranks programs based on their ability to equip graduates with the core competencies needed for positions in the biotech industry. Programs that met the minimum requirements were then rated Platinum, Gold, or Silver, based on an assessment across these areas. With an average of 32 associate degree graduates and 40 certificate recipients per year, Middlesex Community College has the largest program.

“Each college has sustained or grown their biotechnology programs since the inception of these endorsements,” said Abair. “Graduates of these programs are ready for the life sciences workforce. And with nearly 12,000 new industry jobs being projected over the next five years, biopharma companies must consider talent from all corners of academia – especially those that are trained and ready to work on Day 1.”

Download the full report here.

An overview of each college’s programs along with primary program contact is available here. 

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About GPSTEM

In 2015, U.S. Department of Labor selected a consortium of 15 Massachusetts community colleges to receive the final round of federal funding from the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) Grant. Massasoit Community College was the project lead for the grant. 

The goal of the grant was for community colleges to advance a comprehensive approach to addressing the training and educational needs of workers and employers statewide with a focus on articulated pathways to careers in high-growth STEM sectors. The project was titled Guided Pathways to Success in STEM (GPSTEM).  One of the fields of focus of the GPSTEM project was the life sciences.  MassBioEd collaborated with the consortium to facilitate activities regarding the life sciences focus.

About the MassBioEd Foundation

A 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit organization, MassBioEd's vision is for a talented regional workforce to sustain a world-class life sciences industry. Its mission is to build a sustainable life sciences workforce in the region through educational programs that inspire and propel students, engage and excite teachers, and illuminate the pathway from the classroom to careers.

This Path Forward brief is a part of MassBioEd’s ongoing Digest of Biotech Jobs Trends in Massachusetts, which also includes Quarterly Reports, one-off Briefs, a Medical Device Snapshot, an Entry Level Jobs Report, and the annual Job Trends Forecast.  The Briefs present basic data and analysis on aspects of biopharma industry job trends.  

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