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New ‘Bioversity’ aims to diversify biotech workforce with free training program

Eight-week course offers pathway to entry-level jobs in life sciences

Avery Bleichfeld
New ‘Bioversity’ aims to diversify biotech workforce with free training program
Bioversity Executive Director Zach Stanley addresses attendees at an information session for the new initiative. BANNER PHOTO

A new training program in the life sciences aims to bring more people from diverse backgrounds into biotechnology as the industry’s need to fill jobs increases.

The Bioversity program, a nonprofit offshoot of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio), will be based out of the old Boston Globe headquarters in Dorchester and promises students hands-on experience to help prepare them for lab operations jobs in an eight-week course intended to serve as an alternative to a college degree.

Using a curriculum developed by the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS), with feedback from companies in the industry, Bioversity aims to prepare people for entry-level jobs.

The training program joins at least three other freestanding ones in operation or development designed to diversify the industry’s workforce in the Boston area.

Zach Stanley, executive director of Bioversity, said now is a good time to get into the life sciences.

“The reason you want to do this is the demand for jobs in the biotech industry in Boston and beyond is growing very rapidly,” Stanley said as part of his pitch at an information session for the program Sept. 25. “The opportunity for a good paying job, with full benefits, awaits you upon completion of our program, and that’s really what we’re here for.”

The program will offer opportunities for people who either don’t want to or can’t afford to attend a four-year college the opportunity to develop skills to start a career.

It also offers individuals in dead-end jobs a chance to start a new career, said Andrea Swain, chief impact officer at the Boys and Girls Club of Boston.

“College is becoming just out of the realm of some high school graduates because of the cost factor, the barriers around transportation and cost and navigating being a first-generation student, and so a viable option may be to go into the workforce,” said Swain, who attended the information session with a handful of participants, parents and alumni from Boys and Girls Club programs.

Stanley said the training program aims to draw a diverse selection of students to bolster a growing demand for a growing workforce in the life sciences industry. He called that push “almost purely a numbers game.”

“We should not, as a state or as an industry, be looking towards people moving to Massachusetts to get jobs or otherwise,” Stanley said. “We should be looking first and foremost to talent we know is here already and give them the opportunity and proper training and education really thrive in this industry.”

According to the 2021 industry snapshot released by MassBio, the life sciences may need an estimated 40,000 new workers by 2024. In its first year, Bioversity is aiming to train a total of 100 students in five cohorts throughout the year.

“One hundred may not seem like a lot, but it is hopefully 100 people that otherwise wouldn’t have had jobs in the life sciences,” Stanley said.

Looking toward the future, he said Bioversity is considering additional locations across the state with the same mission of connecting overlooked communities with employers.

For Stanley, the focus on diversity is not limited to racial diversity.

“For too long, many different populations have been overlooked,” Stanley said. “That’s not just race and ethnicity, but it’s things like educational experience.”

According to the MassBio’s 2022 workforce analysis report, about 70% of employers prefer a candidate with a bachelor’s degree for entry-level jobs. About 60% require one. According to the same report, however, about half of employers said they would hire an applicant with less than a bachelor’s degree for an entry-level position.

The launch of Bioversity puts it in a landscape of a handful of other programs working to broaden the life sciences workforce.

A group called  MassBioEd — an older, now independent offshoot of MassBio — runs programs focused on training educators in biotechnology and exposing students to college and career opportunities in the life sciences

The Roxbury-based American City Coalition runs Roxbury Worx, an initiative launched in 2022 to bring middle-skill workers in the neighborhood into jobs in the life sciences and biotechnology as well as in healthcare and sustainability technology.

In Nubian Square, the NuSq Ascends development will include a life science training center with the goal of helping Roxbury residents access more jobs in science, engineering, technology and mathematics fields. Previously, Richard Taylor, who will lead the center, said the NuSq Life Science Training Center will be well situated for its goals, with its proximity to schools like Roxbury Community College, Franklin Cummings Institute and Madison Park Technical Vocational High School as well as the transit hub at Nubian Station.

Stanley said he hopes the programs will operate as a network, with his program at Bioversity supplementing and filling gaps in the other existing options.

In the immediate sense, he said the program will fill some gaps with its focus on lab operations jobs — roles that work with lab logistics like scheduling staff and ordering supplies.

“Those really are big job opportunities initially and career paths for people with only a high school degree,” Stanley said.

In the bigger picture, Stanley sees that network providing a chance for students to access more opportunity. For example, if a student applies to Bioversity but is not the right fit, Stanley said they may be directed to another one of the programs as a different approach.

Taylor said he sees the start of the Bioversity program as an opportunity to connect with the planned training center in Nubian Square.

“Connecting these two programs would significantly improve income inequality in low-income communities and help close the racial wealth gap,” Taylor said.

Applications for the first Bioversity session, which will begin in January, opened Sept. 26. Each session of the course will run for eight weeks, with a 30-hour commitment per week. The program will be free for participants and will offer a $500 weekly stipend.

At the info session, Stanley said the program would help participants not only through the course — which will include practice in developing a resume and doing job interviews — but also will help finding a job in the field upon completion.

Participants will leave the program with a certificate from Bioversity and MCPHS, which Stanley said will “mean something.”

“When you have that on your resume — a certificate from our program — even though it’s a new program, it’s a program that our employers locally are aware of,” he said at the info session. “When they see ‘Bioversity’ on your resume and on your LinkedIn, they know that you’ve been well-trained in our program and you’re going to be very employable for these positions.”

Beyond getting people into life science jobs, Swain said opportunities like the ones offered by Bioversity are important in helping address other longstanding equity issues.

“This is a great way to have an impact in changing some of the social constructs … affected by poverty,” Swain said. “When people have a livable wage, their health improves [and] their communities improve, which makes Boston and Chelsea a better city.”

biotech, Bioversity, life sciences, MassBio
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