Life sciences could be at risk if enough skilled workers aren't found

The life sciences industry in California, especially San Diego County, is booming with an annual economic impact of nearly $260 billion and payrolls topping one million jobs.

And according to a new report from San Diego-based Biocom, things are likely to get even better in coming years.

“The statewide economic analysis demonstrates the amazingly positive impact the life sciences industry has on the state of California, not just in terms of creating life-saving treatments for patients, but also in terms of driving the economy forward and creating a highly educated, well-paid workforce,” said Joe Panetta, president and CEO of Biocom.

The report, prepared in cooperation with the BayBio Institute in San Francisco, shows venture capital funding and research funding from the National Institute of Health continue to pour into California, topping $3.3 billion in 2013.

However, the report acknowledges the biggest hurdle facing the life sciences industry here and across the country: finding enough skilled workers to fill jobs.

“In order for our industry to continue as an economic engine for the state of California, we need to understand its evolving talent needs and how to best meet them. In short, as our industry continues to create jobs, it is critical that we have people prepared to step into those jobs,” said Lori Lindburg, executive director of the BayBio Institute.

The concern about building a pool of skilled workers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- often referred to as STEM -- was the subject of a massive report from the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program.

The report, “Still Searching: Job Vacancies and STEM Skills,” finds companies across the country and in San Diego County face a growing challenge to fill STEM positions, despite high salary offers.

The Brookings report measured the number of days it takes to hire STEM workers in various regions.

Tech hubs on the West Coast including San Diego had some of the longest duration times for professional STEM openings. It took 59 days to fill an opening in San Jose, 56 days in San Francisco, 48 days in Seattle and 43 days in San Diego.

“Whether the absolute STEM shortage is mild or severe, important consequences follow even a relative shortage. Without major changes in training or education policy and practice, the relative shortage of STEM workers will likely play out by enlarging the already sizable long-term gap in lifetime earnings and unemployment rates between STEM and non-STEM workers,” cites the report.

The gap is especially evident in California. A report from Georgetown University shows the demand for STEM workers here will reach 1.1 million jobs by 2018, the highest number in the country.

Efforts are underway to improve the training for potential STEM workers. The California STEM Learning Network says the 2015 state budget includes more than $450 million to support implementation of high quality programming in STEM.

Bottom line, California history in life sciences could be at risk unless a concerted effort is made to match the needs of the industry with the pool of skilled workers.

“The biotechnology industry was born right here in California, with the Bay Area being home to the first biotech company, the first biotech public offering, and the first biotech drug approval by the FDA. What started out as an industry in its infancy in 1976 has grown to a diverse hub for life science research,” said Gail Maderis, president of BayBio.

User Response
0 UserComments