Like a lot of municipalities in Massachusetts, Chelsea has the welcome mat out for biomanufacturing plants. Making the sales pitch, City Manager Tom Ambrosino points out new MBTA transportation opening in September and his city’s proximity to Boston and Logan airport. But Chelsea’s “particular interest” in drawing biomanufacturing is to bring jobs, not for those with advanced degrees but for Chelsea’s residents, many of whom enter the workforce with only high school degrees.
The pandemic put a spotlight on just how critical developing and manufacturing medicines and vaccines are and helped spur a record-setting flow of investment money into Massachusetts, according to the industry group MassBio. And now, there’s demand for new factories to make those medicines — and the workforce to go with them.
But as Ambrosino knows, and contrary to what many might think, not all the jobs require advanced degrees. Certificate courses, or companies themselves, can train high school graduates for entry level jobs. But experts in Massachusetts say there aren’t enough programs in the state to meet the need.
“The demand is very high across the board by manufacturing and biotechnology in general. We hear from employers that they don't have enough people to fill the positions that they need, especially at the entry level,” said John Doyle, education director at the non-profit Gloucester Biotechnology Academy, which offers a 9-month program that doesn’t require a background in science or math.
“That's particularly important to the city of Chelsea, because we're really interested in bringing in employers that pay good living wages to people that don't necessarily need a master's degree or a doctorate in order to have a job,” Ambrosino said.
Doyle calls it a population that’s “essentially untapped,” and said, “there's a pool of people out there that could be used to fill this gap in employment. And we just have to rethink how we reach them.”
Growing that workforce will also keep Massachusetts ahead of states like North Carolina and New Jersey which have ramped up their efforts to draw life science companies, according to MassBio, a non-profit group that represents the life sciences industry in the state. And those in academia, like Charles Cooney, a chemical engineering professor at MIT, said he hears industry concern about the "quantity and quality" of the workforce all the time.
“A lot of it is routine work, but it's very, very critical to the success of the industry,” said Cooney. “If we're going to realize the potential of the region, we can only do that if we have the people to staff and we can only have the people to staff if we educate them and train them.”
Watch: Mass. Gets Ready For A Biomanufacturing Boom