A timely rebuke
Report underscores need for science skills
If Massachusetts is to realize the promise of its budding life sciences industry, it must do a better job providing entry and mid-level workers with the technical training skills they need to fill the ranks of many companies looking to grow right here in the commonwealth. That’s the conclusion of a yearlong study from the University of Massachusetts’ Donahue Institute.
The study underscores the folly of the recent “emergency” measure to water down the MCAS science requirement.
The “Growing Talent” report is fundamentally positive: More than 85 percent of life sciences companies intend to expand operations in the next two years.
At the same time, three-quarters report some difficulty in finding workers. There is a particular need for clinical research staff and highly trained medical professionals, but job opportunities exist across a broad range of positions, including human resources, information technology, product development, project management, accounting and marketing.
At the bachelor’s degree level and beyond, the report concludes, the state’s public and private educational institutions do a good-to-excellent job preparing students for careers. But the study identifies the need for better coordination among educational institutions and between the education and business communities to help students prepare for careers in the growing life sciences sector.
A most troubling finding is that employers have long-term concerns about the adequacy of high school instruction in math, science and technology. That underscores the importance of 15 years of education reforms, including high-stakes MCAS testing. Education officials do no one any favors by passing students through the system without ensuring they are able to meet rigorous standards with real-world applications.
Finally, the report emphasizes the diverse and exciting nature of the promise of the life sciences industry, and opportunities for a work force that is as diverse in its interests and abilities as any.
As WPI president Dennis Berkey put it, “We need to get the message out that there are very rewarding jobs in science that don’t require a Ph.D. Students need to know that science is something great and fun.”
The report is a timely rebuke to those who would retreat from the reasonable science-education goals of education reform.
September 21, 2008