Jun 7, 2023 - Business

Inside the job training attempting to bridge biotech's racial gaps

Toyosi Adigun, center left, is presenting the findings of her group's experiment to prospective employers. The group is part of the latest CareerForge job training cohort.

Participants in a job training program analyzed genetic mutations in a melanoma patient as part of the program. Photo: Steph Solis/Axios

A collection of Massachusetts nonprofits and higher education institutions are trying to tackle the diversity problem in the biotech workforce with free and paid job training programs.

Why it matters: The region’s fastest-growing industry has largely left out people of color who lack connections and, often, college degrees.

The big picture: The state’s biotech industry grew nearly 15% between 2019 and 2022, outpacing the national average, according to a recent report from the Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation.

  • But the industry doesn’t have enough workers to keep growing apace, much less nonwhite or women workers.

By the numbers: Only 7% of life sciences graduates in Massachusetts were Black last year, per the report.

  • 11% were Latino.

Zoom in: Cambridge-based LabCentral Ignite launched its Career Forge program last year to help college students and recent grads with scientific backgrounds explore biotech careers.

  • The latest cohort of 14 people spent three weeks learning how to work in a lab, conduct experiments and present their findings to prospective employers.
  • All the participants were people of color, immigrants or members of another underrepresented community, says Gretchen Cook-Anderson, the group's executive director.
  • Alums have landed jobs with Thermo Fisher, Seismic Therapeutic, Takeda and other life sciences companies.

Other programs target high school graduates and GED holders with no science background.

  • The Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute has a 10-month program that includes lab training and an internship for entry-level technicians.
  • MassBioEd offers five-week apprenticeships for lab support specialists and 16-week apprenticeships for biomanufacturing technicians.

What they’re saying: “This is something that you're going to need in order to stand out among other individuals, but it's not necessarily something that you're able to get in college,” says Toyosi Adigun, a recent college grad who moved here from Florida for Career Forge and is job-hunting.

What's next: Gov. Healey announced plans yesterday for a "MassTalent" hub to connect skilled workers with employers, including networking help and a free job training program for those with a high school education.


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