2018 report on US biotech hiring shows surprising softness


Data are down for 2016-7, but still relatively high compared to prior years; UPDATED

This year’s BIO meeting (Boston, June 4-7) is not only a 25th anniversary celebration of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization founding, but also should be a pinnacle in life sciences technology development, given the excitement around cellular and genetic therapies, the high number of FDA approvals, and the generally healthy condition of pharma and biotech for healthcare.

So, it’s something of a surprise that a biennial report on US employment in biotechnology actually shows a two-year decline in recruitment, and skips over completely an analysis of actual, current employment. The Coalition of State Bioscience Institutes (CSBI), which sponsored this year’s study, put a brave spin on these numbers by stating that “job postings [are] strong after slight decline,” but the results are still something of a mystery. Pharmaceutical Commerce will look more closely at the data trends in coming days, but for now, here’s the results as announced on June 5 in the 2018 Life Sciences Workforce Trends Report:

  • Total job postings:2015: 330,5872016: 301,9372017: 263,777
  • Total “technical” job postings:2015: 58,1662016: 58,4942017: 53,426

Some qualifiers: these are “postings,” which is presumably job openings listed by employers. Also—significantly—these numbers are not employment only in pharma- and biotech-related healthcare (including medical devices), but rather all of those plus “agriculture, feedstock and chemicals” and “bioscience-related distribution.” Ag and chemicals are included because BIO pays attention to industrial and agricultural biotechnology, and distribution is included on the logic that more business in biotech products means more distribution and commercial activity. (CSBI and BIO could justify including healthcare-related businesses in their employment numbers, but at some point the biotech focus would be dwarfed by the larger business sectors.)

The CSBI report does give an indication on hiring by sector, showing that the medical devices sector had a relatively higher number of “no hire” employers in the past 12 months, while pharma, industrial biotech and “other” had relatively few no hires, and a predominance of companies hiring “more than 50” employees—but these are qualitative, and not quantitative, measures.

6/7 Update:

Turns out the CSBI was only one of the employment/investment reports issued at BIO this year; the other was a BIO-sponsored biennial report from Teconomy Partners LLC, which had also performed some of the earlier studies. The National Bioscience Industry Report shows that employment has relatively anemic employment growth in the past few years (but not shrinkage, as the CSBI data would indicate); meanwhile, investment has skyrocketed in the past year.

BIO and Teconomy have defined the five-sector "biosciences" industry as indicated in the CSBI report. Overall employment grew to 1.74 million in 2016 (the latest year for the employment numbers), up 4.4% from 2014 (by comparison, the overall civilian employment rate grew by 2.2% over this period). Within the drugs/pharmaceuticals sector, employment grew by 2.0%, to 299,113. The big winner was the "research, testing and medical laboratories" category, up 8.2%, to 547,566.

Total bioscience venture-capital investment totaled $20.1 billion in 2017--a new record--up from 2016's $14,5 billion.

The Teconomy report also details state-by-state, and metropolitan region-by-region data. For the drugs-and-pharmaceuticals sector, the top states are California, New Jersey and North Carolina, while the top metropolitan area is New York and its surroundings. For the bioscience distribution category, Florida is No. 1 and Illinois is No. 2.

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