Life Science Apprenticeships Launch Careers in Biotech | Corning

Employment in the biotech sector is exploding, and in hot tech corridors such as eastern Massachusetts, demand for workers outpaces supply. According to the workforce development organization MassBioEd (Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation), 20 million square feet of lab and manufacturing space will be created in the state by 2024, resulting in 40,000 new jobs. Life science apprenticeships, a novel biotech employment training program developed by MassBioEd, seeks to close the gap, connecting jobseekers with participating companies, including Corning Life Sciences.

"We are excited to partner with MassBioEd," notes Sylvia Jarest, Corning's lead on the apprenticeship program. "We're looking forward to providing diverse experiences as apprentices learn about the life science field."

Essau Austin, Corning's first apprentice Biologic Manufacturing Technician, describes the opportunity as ideal.

"I was looking for jobs to further myself," he notes. "And this apprenticeship gave me the perfect opportunity to do so."

Labor Market Impact Shows a Skills Shortfall

The life sciences sector is booming, but the shortage of skilled labor will hold it back. As MassBioEd and others have calculated, there won't be enough workers to fill vital spaces at the bench, and industry leaders predict this will limit growth.

The labor shortage is true beyond the U.S. as well. A labor market report from BioTalent Canada predicts that Canadian life sciences will face a national shortage of 65,000 workers by 2029. According to adMare Bioinnovations, skilled talent shortages in Canada will impact both healthcare and the economy overall.

As a solution, the MassBioEd apprenticeship program seeks to diversify talent intake to address the shortage.

"Many individuals in our local communities have the right attitude and aptitude to succeed in mid-skilled roles in the industry," explains Karla Talanian of MassBioEd, noting that many lack a pathway to entry.

Stepping Into Careers in Biotech

MassBioEd, founded in 2001, launched its Life Science Apprenticeship Program in 2020 as a result of their regular reviews of industry needs, including feedback from major employers, stakeholders, and government. The apprenticeship training program comprises three to six months of classroom training followed by work experience with an employer. Focused on accelerated training and relevant skills development, MassBioEd works in close partnership with life science employers, universities, and professional associations.

"The Life Sciences Apprenticeship Program was developed to answer industry problems," says Talanian. "Demand for talent in this industry is far greater than the supply, and it needs innovative programs to build the pool of available talent across many functions."

The application, which Austin describes as straightforward, aims to find participants from previously untapped audiences. Seeking innovative ways to diversify the workforce, the program uses non-traditional methods to reach people.

"We cast a wide net to find people where they are," Talanian explains. In addition to placing ads on Indeed, MassBioEd also works closely with community-based organizations, local workforce boards, adult education centers, and immigrant and veteran support groups.

"We put flyers in libraries, hair salons, coffee shops, and other locations in the community to attract people who might be intrigued by embarking on a new career path. Word of mouth is also important; people often say a friend or relative shared a post on LinkedIn."

The organization then selects candidates according to their passion for the subject and supports those without a science background. There's a paid stipend during training, and tuition is free. After candidates have completed the initial application, the Life Science Apprenticeship Program recruits according to aptitude.

"Our interviews are designed to identify each person's interest in this kind of work, to see if we can find a spark of passion that will carry them through any difficult times, and to gauge their reliability, their problem-solving skills, and their ability to work on a team," says Talanian.

The Employer Perspective

Although Corning is at the start of its experience with the life science apprenticeship program, excitement is running high. As the first apprentice hire, Austin has already been in touch with his work experience team and sees great potential for the future.

"Sylvia [Jarest] explained how there's always room to grow," says Austin. "Our conversation has me believing more and more that this is really the place for me."

This anticipation is shared by Jarest, who noted that Corning has been fully involved in the lead-up to Austin's start.

"This is our first year with the program," says Jarest. "We've talked with several instructors in the program, and in July joined one of the classes to share our experiences and discuss real-world scenarios a new hire could face in the workplace."

The Corning team shared information on how to build relationships and how technicians contribute to Corning Life Science. Jarest is confident that keen apprentices will bring a great amount of value as new hires.

"These apprentices will bring a basic foundational knowledge of life science with hands-on lab training," she says. "This helps us accelerate onboarding and training time."

Life Science Apprenticeships Launch Careers in Biotech

"Once I graduated from high school, I wasn't too sure about what career I could pursue," says Austin, noting that at first he followed the engineering tradition set by his family. With that kind of background, and a considerable understanding of the concept of engineering, he took what he describes as the safe route. "I tried a year of college to explore the engineering field, but that didn't really suit me."

Austin has found the classroom session extremely valuable, noting that his training ranged from biology and the difference between eukaryotes and prokaryotes to accurate measurement with pipettes to the importance of standard operating procedures and QA in maintaining product consistence.

"My best experience so far is being in the lab," says Austin. "It gave me a chance to get a feel for the equipment we'll be using and how to properly put on PPE gear."

Austin's preference for learning in-person was matched with classroom experience. He has found that he loves preparing buffers and learning about using the biosafety cabinet to produce solutions correctly.

He also enjoyed the group work and team assignments, where one assignment brought in sustainability issues as the group explored the correct uses and selection of plastics in the lab. Austin also advises that keeping an open mind and open lines of communication is key to maximizing gains in the apprenticeship program.

"The best way for my peers to prepare for the MassBioEd program is to have an open mind, be ready to learn, and have the dedication for the work that has to be done," he explains. "My best tip is to communicate. Communication will bring you a long way in the program."

He also notes that the education program is extremely supportive, regardless of one's education and background.

"School does a really good job of bringing you in, in case you've never done any science before," Austin explains. "As we got further, it became more advanced, and that's when you start to really pick it up."

While Austin is a bit nervous about the start of the work experience term, he's also looking forward.

"The program has helped my career by allowing me to get my foot in the door and learn and grow from there," he notes enthusiastically.

Talanian echoes this sentiment: "It's a great opportunity! Free education with a stipend and a full year of well-paid, on-the-job training for invaluable experience," she says. "It is not just a new job, but truly an on-ramp to a lifelong fulfilling career. There are ample opportunities to grow professionally."