Mason leads a planning study to position Northern Virginia as a prime location for the life sciences industry

In recent years, industry demand for a skilled life sciences workforce has increased. In Virginia, although there are currently shortages in almost all health-related occupations, little is known about whether there is a sufficient supply of life science workers to meet employer needs. Now George Mason University is working on a solution.

In partnership with Phoenix Advantage, a Virginia-based economic development and business consulting firm, Caroline Sutter of Mason’s College of Public Health; Amy Adams, executive director of the Institute for Biohealth Innovation; and their team received a Life Sciences Talent Pathway Planning Grant from GO Virginia, a publicly funded initiative administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.

Microbiology students are part of the life science labor pool.
File photo by Lathan Goumas/Strategic Communications

With the help of the award, they will assess life science employer needs, employment trends, labor supply, and demand projections in Northern Virginia. Provided future funding is secured, they intend to use their findings to facilitate the expansion of the pipeline of life science workers.

“A strong workforce is an essential part of a thriving life sciences industry,” said Susan Baker, CEO of GO Virginia. “GO Virginia is proud to support an effort to make Northern Virginia a region capable of meeting the needs of an ever-growing market.”

According to Adams, the first step of the project will be to create a comprehensive list of companies that hire people in the life sciences sector, such as digital health companies and biomanufacturers. From there, Phoenix Advantage will schedule interviews with identified employers to better understand their priorities and what they see as the ideal skills for the future workforce.

Meanwhile, the Mason Center for Health Workforce (MCHW), led by Sutter and PJ Maddox, will leverage data from the Commonwealth of Virginia to assess the future labor pool, including high school and college students. Established in 2022, the MCHW plays a leadership role in health workforce planning and development throughout Virginia. The center has collected extensive data relating to healthcare workers and will expand to include life science personnel in this project.

“The health workforce is changing; demand is high, just as burnout, turnover and rising labor costs reduce the supply of qualified personnel,” said Sutter, who is also an associate professor at Mason’s School of Nursing. “The Mason Center for Health Workforce helps organizations, communities and the Commonwealth use data for decision-making to create short-term solutions and long-term strategies.”

Seeing tremendous value in the team’s efforts to optimize life science workforce readiness, The Claude Moore Foundation, a Virginia-based nonprofit and a key funder of MCHW, provided matching funds for the planning grant.

A VR Simulation Lab training class. Photo file by
Shelby Burgess/Strategic Communications

“The vibrancy and growth of the life sciences ecosystem in Northern Virginia depends in part on our ability to understand workforce needs and attract and nurture talent,” said Bill Hazel, director Senior Assistant of the Claude Moore Foundation. “This grant will allow us to map those needs and strengthen our talent pool.”

The next step of the project will be to identify existing education and training programs to avoid duplication and fill potential gaps. Finally, an analysis will be conducted on how workers and employers are currently matched in the life sciences industry.

Adams said she believes the Northern Virginia area has immense potential to be the destination for life science companies to reside and thrive. She added that she hopes the team’s work will result in the formation of programs that motivate students to pursue careers in the life sciences.

“We want to reach students early on and show them that the career path in life sciences is extremely rewarding; you can touch many lives around the world by developing innovative solutions to advance health,” Adams said. “By inspiring inspiration, we can also help businesses in our region thrive by ensuring access to a well-prepared and adequately sized workforce is what drives us.

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