The development of life sciences spaces in Boston shows no signs of slowing down. Recent estimates suggest that more than 10 million square feet of office and industrial space in Greater Boston are being converted into workshops, and about half of these projects don’t have a tenant lined up. And while zoning, planning, real estate and development are all major concerns in expanding lab space in Boston, one factor that is often overlooked is the state of workforce development opportunities for Boston residents. , especially people of color.
Greater Boston is experiencing one of the fastest growth in employment in the life sciences sector compared to the surrounding areas. Unsurprisingly, this explosive expansion has led to an urgent demand for trained talent to support the industry. Recent reports from job posting entities that track employment, such as Indeed.com and Biotech Networks, find that there were 2,630 job postings for the industry in Cambridge between July 2020 and mid-January 2021. Talent became so scarce that companies have started poaching employees by offering higher wages and greater benefits.
While this is an exciting opportunity for Boston residents, the persistent lack of diversity in STEM fields poses a problem for black and brown residents looking to take advantage of these new job opportunities. According to Pew Research, black and Hispanic workers in the United States make up 28% of the total workforce, but only 17% of STEM employees. If the expansion of economic opportunity in STEM fields does not reach the black and brown communities, it is just another obstacle on the way to economic empowerment and the aspirations of Boston as a global model of economic equity.
Recently, the Boston City Council held a hearing on the need for clear commitments from the life sciences industry to invest in dedicated training spaces and certification programs to ensure Boston residents have access to these opportunities. of workforce. Governments at both state and city levels, as well as industry-led initiatives, have a role to play in organizing the industry around this goal, in defining a streamlined training curriculum, and in investing in the education ecosystem. to achieve a more diverse life science industry in Massachusetts.
In the private sector, work has begun to create pipelines for more diverse job opportunities. The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center has completed a new strategic plan and focuses on diversity in the life sciences industry. LabCentral, the leading provider of shared laboratory space for life sciences in the Boston area, has established a suite of programs to nurture greater diversity and create more biotech job opportunities. This initiative, LabCentral Ignite, will play a pivotal role in addressing the need for greater community access and awareness of career opportunities for residents disconnected from biotechnology. Ginkgo Bioworks recently announced a partnership with the Benjamin Franklin Cummings Institute of Technology to design an associate degree in biotechnology
The Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute, a training provider that has a 12-month training certificate program and high industry job placement rates, will join the Benjamin Franklin Cummings Institute of Technology and other center educators. Nubian Square in particular has received a lot of attention. Dearborn STEM Academy, Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, John D. O’Bryant School of Math & Science, Roxbury Community College, Boston Latin Academy and other nearby schools can train in the plaza and then take the bus number 1 to work in Kendall Square / MIT or on the Silver Line to the seaport. Over time, they will be closer to the ecosystem of life sciences companies that are expected to take up residence on Parcel 3 and South End, creating with the center the potential for a vibrant new life science corridor where residents can live, learn. and working.
While these industry initiatives are promising, there is still a lot of work to be done. More investment is needed in schools like Madison Park to train young people to prepare for success in the biotech industry. More apprenticeships and internship opportunities need to be created, and there should be guidance on how and when to apply so that young black students are encouraged to explore this career path early on. Industry leaders should highlight life science workers of color and form mentoring programs so that students of color can see themselves in successful positions. Perhaps most importantly, new real estate developments in the area should include housing and anti-displacement measures so that the black and brown neighborhoods can thrive with this new burst of laboratory space development as well.
This is an immense amount of work and will require collaboration from government agencies, elected officials, developers, biotech companies, schools and communities. There may be a bright future for biotechnology in Boston, but planning must begin now.
Boston city councilor Julia Mejia is chair of the council’s committee on jobs, the workforce and economic empowerment. Gretchen Cook Anderson is executive director of LabCentral Ignite. Johannes Fruehauf is president and founder of LabCentral. Richard Taylor is CEO of the Nubian Square Life Science Training Center.