Even before the 2000s began, experts were dubbing it the Biotech Century. Now that we’re 20 years in, it’s clear that biotech is, indeed, one of the driving forces of modern life science and the modern economy. In the biotech hub of Massachusetts, employment in the biopharma sector grew by 35% over the last decade, with the total number of jobs approaching 75,000 within that state alone.
If you’re considering a career change, the biotech field offers a lot of opportunities. But, can just anyone enter the industry? Here’s what you need to know if you’re thinking about switching to a biotech career.
Many Biotech Jobs Are in Biomanufacturing Facilities
The biotech industry employs numerous types of professionals, from PhDs conducting research to marketers promoting products. One of the greatest concentrations of jobs is in biomanufacturing, particularly in the labs that produce biopharmaceuticals.
These facilities handle upstream and downstream processing, ensuring the cell lines needed for specific biopharmaceuticals are properly generated and that the desired products are properly separated and purified. Many biomanufacturing labs require a large number of professionals performing a variety of tasks.
Professionals working in biomanufacturing often begin as associates, technicians, or operators in media prep, cell culture, buffer prep, or validation. While these jobs have different titles at different companies, the skill sets are generally transferable throughout the industry.
Broad Skills are More Important than Specialized Skills
There is a lot of specialization in the biomanufacturing industry. Each biopharmaceutical requires its own specific processes and each process requires its own specific set of skills and knowledge. That might seem intimidating if you’ve never worked in biotech before. Fortunately, you don’t need to possess highly specialized skills to find employment at most biomanufacturing companies.
Because every company has its own specific processes, most companies put all new hires through rigorous training programs. So, you don’t need to worry about having—or not having—specialized skills. Instead, focus on acquiring a broad understanding of biomanufacturing. You don’t even need to be in a current scientific field to achieve this. People with technical or mechanical aptitude routinely transition to biotech and perform well.
Decreasing Your “Door to Floor” Time Can Help You Land a Job
Just because you can get a biotech job without industry experience doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from training. In addition to learning about the processes involved in biomanufacturing, you may want to consider undergoing some hands-on training in a lab environment.
Learning the basic operations of bioreactors, centrifuges, filtration and purification systems, and other types of equipment used in the upstream and downstream biomanufacturing process can give you an advantage over others entering the field. The more general skills you possess, the less training your biomanufacturing employer will have to provide you.
Unsurprisingly, employers prefer new hires that can move quickly from training into their actual roles—what they call your“door-to-floor” time. The faster your time is, the more attractive you’ll be. If you’re serious about making a career change into biotech, consider taking a few courses that provide a basic level of hands-on experience with biomanufacturing processes.
Massachusetts Is the Place to Be
As previously mentioned, Massachusetts is the hub of America’s biotech industry. The state is home to more than 430 biotech companies, 30 million square feet of lab space, and five of the top National Institutes of Health-funded hospitals. There is such tight competition for life sciences workers in Massachusetts that employers report it taking more than three months to fill open positions; that timeframe could get even longer with the industry projected to create 12,000 new jobs between 2018 and 2024.
If you live in Massachusetts, you likely live close to a large number of biotech employers, making a career change quite feasible. If you live elsewhere, have mobility, and are committed to switching to biotech, consider relocating. The opportunity for biotech employment in the state is truly unprecedented. Plus, Massachusetts has state-of-the-art training facilities like the Biomanufacturing Education & Training Center (BETC) at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. BETC offers flexible training programs, some geared to career changers. Massachusetts is where biotech is happening, and where you’re most likely to make your career switch a success.