March 16, 2009 | last updated March 24, 2012 10:47 am
BIOTECH BUZZ

Tech And Soft Skills In Demand | Health care, biotech companies share workforce needs

Not everyone can be a doctor or a scientist with a Ph.D., but that doesn't mean they can't work in health care or biotech companies.

So said employers recently at a panel discussion on the workforce needs of health care, biotech and biomedical companies held at Worcester State College by the Colleges of Worcester Consortium.

Diverse Needs

A wide range of workers will be needed, according to representatives of several health care and biopharmaceutical companies. The fields in demand include: certified nursing assistants, medical assistants, those with associate's degrees in nursing or allied health fields, manufacturing jobs that require bachelor's degrees and IT jobs of varying levels as more and more institutions move to electronic records.

The companies represented on the panel were the UMass Memorial Health Care of Worcester, St. Vincent Hospital of Worcester, Bay State Health of Springfield, Genzyme of Boston and Framingham and Cubist Pharmaceuticals of Lexington.

All three hospitals said they need registered nurses, but they also need a variety of other professionals.

"Technology in health care is transforming almost every area," said Patrica G. Webb, senior vice president and chief human resources officer of UMass Memorial. That means clinicians who have mastered technology as well as technicians who can handle the computerization of many health care aspects will do well in the coming years, she said.

UMass Memorial has 13,500 employees now, and will need workers in administrative, clerical, financial and accounting, maintenance and other support staff in the years ahead.

"We haven't always done a good job of telling people about the different options," she said. She also stressed that students wondering where they could fit in a health care company should consider supply chain, legal and regulatory positions, because the need for them will only grow in the future.

Webb did not project UMass Memorial's future needs number-wise, but if it's anything like the future needs of Springfield-based Bay State Health, it will be huge.

Jean Jackson, Bay State's vice president of workforce planning, said her employer will need a staff of 18,500 in 10 years, up from its current workforce of 13,500. Bay State believes it will need physician's assistants, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, surgical, medical and radiology technologists, and physical, occupational and respiratory technicians.

But if students, or anyone for that matter, want to succeed, they also have to develop so-called "soft skills." Whether someone works well with others, is a good team member and can communicate verbally and in writing are all important skills that employers want in workers. But it's even more than that.

"There are four generations in the workforce now," said UMass' Webb. It's important to be able to get along with people who are different racially and ethnically, but also those of several different ages, she added.

Both Genzyme and Cubist Pharmaceuticals Inc. of Lexington will mostly need scientists with Ph.Ds, but also those with bachelor's degrees in the sciences. Genzyme will likely need lower-level employees in its new manufacturing operation in Framingham, which is still under construction. But people skills will be just as important at biotech companies as it is at health care companies.

"If you cannot communicate and are not capable of relationship-building in a cross-functional way, you will not succeed at Genzyme," said Angelique Torres, a recruiter at Genzyme, which is based in Cambridge, but has several facilities in Framingham and one in Westborough.

Got news for our Biotech Buzz column? E-mail WBJ Staff Writer Eileen Kennedy at ekennedy@wbjournal.com.

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