Think Lab brings together 50+ cross-sector leaders to discuss possibilities for the North Shore’s technology workforce
In Massachusetts, 100,000 people are employed by the life sciences sector, an area that has exploded over the last decade.
“Massachusetts is the best place in the world for life sciences,” said Kendalle O’Connell, president and COO of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council. “But there are some real issues that are facing that growth.”
The biggest issue? Workforce. “It’s affecting every company,” O’Connell said.
A recent MassBio survey revealed that 94% of life science companies are having trouble hiring experienced workers; 74% said it was difficult to fill entry level positions due to lack of training.
Traditional workforce development programs, O’Connell said, will not meet the future employment needs of local life science companies, including those moving into the North Shore. Experts predict that by 2024, 40,000 new life science jobs will be created across Massachusetts.
The life sciences, like so many other large employment sectors in the state, are propelled by innovation and technology, so to say that technology’s impact on the Massachusetts economy is significant is an understatement. Tech employment represents 44% of the total state payroll, and the sector accounts for $110.6 billion of Massachusetts’ Gross State Product.
Indeed, the tech sector in Massachusetts is strong, thanks in part to organizations like O’Connell’s Mass Bio, the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC) and the Mass Technology Leadership Council (MTLC) – all three whose leaders spoke at a Think Lab last month to begin to brainstorm ideas to help prepare North Shore workers to leverage emerging employment opportunities and support the local hiring needs of the tens of thousands of companies looking for skilled, experienced tech workers.
The Think Lab – Reimagining the North Shore Technology Workforce – was hosted by the North Shore Technology Council, Endicott College, MassHire North Shore, North Shore InnoVentures and Essex County Community Foundation (ECCF). More than 50 cross-sector leaders participated in the event.
ECCF regularly convenes and supports countywide, cross-sector Think Labs that bring people together to brainstorm solutions to a variety of regional issues, including workforce development. Since 2019, the foundation has also provided fiduciary, strategic and community support for the Advanced Manufacturing Training Expansion Program, a collaborative, systems-based workforce development initiative in partnership with the GE Foundation and MassHire’s North Shore Workforce Investment Board.
At the May Think Lab, O’Connell; Carolyn Kirk, executive director of MTC; and Sara Fraim, senior director of programs and policy at MTLC, gave an overview of the tech sector in Massachusetts and the various ways their organizations support, strengthen and grow the industry. Together, they advocate, convene industry leaders, manage workforce development programs, provide data and research, promote education and more.
But collaboration, they all agree, is essential to improving and expanding a technology workforce that can meet increased need.
“It’s going to take all of us working together,” said O’Connell. “We can bring about short and long-term solutions.”
To support that, Think Lab participants were divided into small groups that enabled them to share observations from the field, suggest people who might play a role in developing a solutions-based ecosystem and brainstorm big ideas that work towards reimagining the technology workforce on the North Shore.
Common themes emerged as small groups reconvened and presented what they had discussed, including expanding nontraditional pathways to employment; engaging younger students in the pipeline process, and increasing accessibility to flexible internships and apprenticeships.
“It’s interesting to see us galvanize across a couple of themes,” said Stratton Lloyd, ECCF’s executive vice present and COO.
In July, a report that synthesizes data from all the groups will be made available on the ECCF website and will be used to inform next steps.
“This was a critical meeting for us,” said Tracy Wilson Curley, president of the North Shore Technology Council. “And I just want to thank you for participating.”
The Think Lab is the first step towards building a cohesive workforce development ecosystem for the sector.
“Our goal here is to start building a shared vision for Essex County’s technology workforce,” said Lloyd. “Sessions like this are where the collaborative work begins.”