STEM Planting the seeds for success

Strong molecular/biologic pipelines are not the only barometers of success for the future of the healthcare industry, companies must also fill their talent pipelines to develop tomorrow’s innovative workforce

Continued medical innovation is critical to fostering sustained economic growth in the life sciences industry as well as global competitiveness, and most importantly, helping patients live longer, healthier, and more productive lives. This innovation is driven by a talented and committed workforce. However, the challenge is relying on a workforce with education and skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to build new scientific discoveries and technological advances. According to Battelle’s recent report—STEM: Building a 21st Century Workforce to Develop Tomorrow’s New Medicines—an increasing number of countries have recognized that a robust STEM-skilled workforce is needed to fuel continued economic growth. STEM workers have been shown to be key drivers of innovation, and, thus, contribute significantly to economic productivity.

To fulfill the nation’s long-term potential for economic growth, Battelle contends that is critical to advance and improve knowledge in STEM fields and growth in the 21st century work- force. STEM jobs fuel economic growth in many ways, including via higher wages and a higher employment multiplier.

Battelle has noted that there is growing evidence that there are current and projected shortfalls in skilled STEM talent in the US, which underscores a potential threat to the nation’s economic growth as R&D-intensive industries, such as the bio-pharmaceutical sector, may be forced to shift R&D investment and manufacturing capabilities to other countries.

Battelle reports that in a survey of Fortune 1000 executives, 95% report they are concerned that the US is in danger of losing its global leadership because of a shortage of STEM talent. According a recent report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), the US will need to produce 1 million additional STEM graduates over the next decade to maintain its position as the world’s leader in science and technology innovation.

STEM and Women

STEM-related occupations can be found at every stage of the R&D and manufacturing process, and the latest federal data reveal that certain demographic groups are consistently underrepresented in STEM degree programs and jobs, namely women and certain minorities. This represents both a challenge to encourage these groups to pursue careers in these fields as well as an opportunity to leverage the talents of all of the nations’ “best and brightest.”

A report from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) sheds light on the reasons behind women’s under-representation in STEM. The findings fall into three areas: social and environmental factors shaping girls’ achievements and interest in math and science; the college environment; and the continuing importance of bias, often operating at an unconscious level. Encouraging more girls and women to enter these vital fields, the AAUW says, will require careful attention to the environment in classrooms and workplaces and throughout our culture.

Within the biopharma sector, more than 18 biopharmaceutical companies and corporate foundations have initiatives to support more than 30 STEM-related education programs that primarily target girls or women, minorities and/or students/ teachers in lower income areas.

More than 30 PhRMA member companies, many of which are HBA Corporate Partners, are focusing on increasing diversity in STEM fields by providing students of all backgrounds, particularly women and minorities, experience with hands-on, inquiry-based scientific learning opportunities, including:

The Astellas USA Foundation supports Stellar Girls a program that introduces girls in grades 5 through 8 to current interesting “big ideas” in STEM fields.

AstraZeneca provides support to TechGYRLS in Delaware. The program encourages middle and high school girls to embrace technology and to consider a career in science, technology, engineering, or math.

Bayer USA Foundation has long supported Biotech Partners, which is the Bay Area’s only nonprofit organization providing a comprehensive, hands-on, bioscience education and job training program for populations underrepresented in the sciences—especially minority students and women.

Boehringer Ingelheim Care Foundation has provided financial support to the Boys and Girls Club of Stamford, CT, to help fund a science enrichment program, and participation in the Young Scientist Club, an interactive, hands-on science curriculum.

Daiichi Sankyo supports Students 2 Science, Inc. (S2S), a nonprofit corporation that inspires, motivates and educates middle and high school students to pursue careers in STEM subjects in a lower income school district.

Johnson & Johnson supports a post-doctoral research program at the University of Michigan for underrepresented minority doctoral candidates.

Lundbeck is partnering with Perspectives/Illinois Institute of Technology Math and Science Academy to provide students with access to hands-on experiments in quality laboratories as well as access to Lundbeck employees who volunteer as mentors. •