By Nathan Rubbelke, St. Louis Business Journal | March 30, 2022
A newly published report that analyzes St. Louis’ commercial biosciences workforce shows that about half of the expected job openings over the next decade won’t require a four-year college degree, a finding the group behind the study says offers the chance to make the biosciences industry more diverse and accessible for workers.
The St. Louis Bioscience Labor Market Analysis, published by local innovation hub BioSTL and compiled by researchers at the University of Missouri Extension, aims to provide an overview of the region's workforce in the plant, life and medical sciences. It also examines challenges and opportunities facing the bioscience workforce, with BioSTL Director for Regional Workforce Strategy Justin Raymundo saying the report is designed to be a starting point to pursue new initiatives, such as training programs, and set workforce goals in areas such as diversity.
“We really wanted to make sure we had a labor market analysis that was done to serve as that foundational point of our systems approach to regional workforce strategy in the bioscience sector,” Raymundo said.
BioSTL commissioned the report in partnership with several project sponsors, including the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, BRDGPark, Cortex Innovation Community, 39 North Innovation District and Saint Louis University's Sinquefield Center for Applied Economic Research.
Overall, St. Louis’ commercial bioscience workforce includes more than 19,000 payroll jobs at 800 companies, according to the report. Local biosciences workers have annual average earnings of $116,000, per the report's data. The region's bioscience jobs are clustered in three areas: 33% are roles in research, testing and medical labs; 30% are in bioscience-related distribution; and the remaining 37% are in manufacturing areas, including drugs and pharmaceuticals, medical devices and equipment and agricultural feedstock and industrial biosciences. The report focused on commercial bioscience industries and does not include employment totals from local hospitals and universities, which include bioscience research operations.
Overall, the bioscience sector includes a higher percentage of workers with a four-year degree than other industries locally. The report found 46% of bioscience roles necessitate a four-year degree compared with 28% of jobs in the region. Though, Raymundo said a key finding in the study was a greater portion – 47% – of the job openings expected in the next decade won’t require four-year degrees. Raymundo said that bucks traditional thinking that a career in biosciences requires a bachelor's degree or advanced degree. The 47% figure includes so-called “middle-skill jobs,” which are positions that usually require a two-year associate’s degrees, postsecondary certification or on-the-job training. The report says the highest concentration of middle-skill bioscience jobs locally are in the biomanufacturing field. They include roles like packaging machine operator and chemical equipment operators
The report notes preparing workers locally for middle-skill jobs is particularly important given they often are jobs done on-site, as opposed to other roles in the bioscience sector that can be done remotely.
“By contrast many middle-skill jobs—particularly those involved in manufacturing — cannot be done remotely, nor are they the types of jobs that motivate workers to relocate to the region. As a result, employers rely more heavily on the local labor market to fill open positions,” the report said.
Raymundo said the report’s findings regarding middle-skill jobs highlights the importance of short-term technical training programs that could be utilized to place workers in the bioscience industry. In 2021, BioSTL, St. Louis Community College and Waltham, Massachusetts-based Thermo Fisher Scientific teamed up to launch a new biotechnology professional development program. Raymundo said other local bioscience companies have expressed interest in using that type of program for their own workforce.
BioSTL’s report shows the bioscience industry has expanded in recent years, growing at 4.6% clip between 2016 and 2021, adding 850 net new jobs. Over the next decade, more 1,400 job openings are expected in biosciences each year, with the vast majority of those hires to be for existing roles.
In addition to providing an overview of the bioscience workforce, the new report also examines areas where St. Louis can improve to attract more workers to bioscience professions. That includes a call for more training programs for entry-level and existing bioscience workers, enhanced outreach to underrepresented individuals and engaging younger students around the opportunities in biosciences. The report also urges employers to bolster their internship and co-op programs. The report notes St. Louis has a strength with its universities, but that those institutions “face the dual challenge of encouraging people to pursue bioscience careers and persuading them to pursue those careers in the St. Louis region.”
BioSTL’s report also recommends regional leaders and employer examine how they can offer employees with needed transpiration and child care assistance to help broaden who pursues careers in the bioscience field.
“Without these ‘wrap around’ services, many workers cannot take advantage of available job or training opportunities, which in turn can limit the number of potential workers from which employers can draw,” the report says.