Sep 09, 2022
Workforce Development in the Life Sciences: Building Skills, Diversity, and Education in Philadelphia and Beyond
At B.PHL Innovation Fest, the Council explored the importance of workforce development so that workers are prepared to address tomorrow’s challenges, particularly in life sciences—a growing sector in the Philadelphia region and an important one for our country and the world.
Watch the Recording
About the Event
Philadelphia is home to an enormous life science sector: over 2,000 medical technology companies are in Philadelphia, 80% of all pharmaceutical companies and biotech companies in the United States have offices in Greater Philadelphia, and there are over 100 colleges and universities within 50 miles of the city. It is ever more important to ensure that the city has a diverse and capable workforce to meet the needs of the region.
Especially as we continue to emerge from the pandemic, which has shed light on challenges and vulnerabilities that both employers and employees experience—at home in Philadelphia and around the country and world—it is ever more important that workers have the necessary skills, education, and training for a technologically and medically advanced future.
At B.PHL Innovation Fest, the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia explored the importance of workforce development so that workers are prepared to address tomorrow’s challenges, particularly in life sciences—a growing sector in the Philadelphia region and an important one for our country and the world.
During the moderated discussion, the panelists spoke about the ways that the Life Sciences are opening up to more people to fill the huge labor demand in the industry. The Science Center explores how pre-existing skills can provide value for workers and how soft skills can benefit the Life Sciences. One of their goals is to find “Lost Einsteins”: brilliant individuals who have not yet achieved success because of a lack of opportunities. Dr. Lyles-Williams spoke about how, contrary to popular belief, many Life Sciences jobs only require a high school education and that the industry’s needs are so varied that specialized work such as experienced janitorial staff are also in high demand. Many companies give up-front training and, combined with the high demand for workers, the result is that starting salaries are often relatively high and accompanied by good medical benefits. As Dr. Lyles-Williams explained, the international pharmaceutical industry aims to market many of its products in the U.S., so most documentation is done in English. All of these factors make international careers in the Life Sciences more accessible and appealing to average Americans than is widely understood.
The panelists then discussed the remaining obstacles to personal and regional development in the Life Sciences. Phil Brooks described the potential for Philadelphia to expand its Life Sciences industry even further, but noted that to attract companies the region must provide the human resources necessary for staffing. Many people have a mental barrier against seeing themselves as scientists, so education which dispels those stereotypes is essential. During the Q&A section, the panelists answered questions about what companies can do to make Life Sciences careers more accessible. Dr. Lyles-Williams explained the necessity of cultural sensitivity to forming a workplace that is comfortable to people of different backgrounds. Phil Brooks described the challenge many individuals have of forgoing income to make time for training, which companies can address by providing a stipend for their trainees. Mentoring individuals through their training process and earlier career can also have a major positive impact.
About the Moderator
- Lauren Swartz, President & CEO, World Affairs Council of Philadelphia
About the Speakers
- Phil Brooks, Director, STEM Workforce Partnerships, Science Center