Study: Lack of skilled workers puts Washington state’s life science industry “future at risk”

High demand, stiff competition for IT and skilled production workers threaten current and long-term growth of key sector that today employs nearly 30,000 across the state

Washington state’s life sciences industry is facing a critical lack of skilled workers that threaten to stunt future growth, according to a report released today by the state Department of Commerce. The full labor market analysis, commissioned by Commerce’s industry sector lead and funded by Governor Inslee, was conducted in close consultation with the governor’s Life Science and Global Health Workforce Panel, a selected group of 25 public and private industry and educational stakeholders including representatives of Life Science Washington, Washington Global Health Alliance, and the state Employment Security Department.

The report, Assessing Washington’s Life Science and Global Health Workforce Dynamics: Enhancing Connections and Addressing the Skills Gap to Ensure Future Growth, notes that while Washington has built a sizeable life science industry employing nearly 30,000 in high-quality jobs, future growth and competitiveness face challenging headwinds, with workforce issues the top concern. Industry data showed recent stagnation in job gains, patent activity and industrial research and development here compared to the U.S. and competitor states.

Average wages in the industry are $84,156 with above-average concentration in research, testing and medical labs. Washington is also a leader in the related, primarily nonprofit global health sector.

A primary cause for concern is intense competition for similar talent and STEM graduates sought by the region’s huge IT and aerospace industries. The assessment identified eight groups of workers in high-demand: life-science-related engineers; medical and clinical lab technicians; regulatory affairs; bioinformatics/biostatistics; engineers and engineering technicians; information technology; skilled production; and marketing and technical sales reps.

“The report tells us we need better alignment with industry needs and existing workforce capabilities,” said Commerce Director Brian Bonlender. “The good news is the study helps provide a roadmap to accomplishing that. It highlights the industry’s strengths, such as its workforce diversity as compared to other high tech industries.”

Diversity and inclusion in the workforce is one bright spot in the report. Washington’s life science employers are faring better at engaging women in the industry than the nation and are doing much better than other large manufacturing and IT sectors in the state economy. Since 2000, life science employers have also increased the share of racial minorities from 16 percent to 22 percent, signaling progress in inclusion as well as gender representation.

- Washington State Department of Commerce