Neil Sullivan pointed to a set of numbers projected before a room of educators, workforce development experts, and life sciences professionals at MassBioEd Foundation. “That doesn’t happen,” said Sullivan, executive director of the Boston Private Industry Council (PIC), looking at the numbers. “That doesn’t happen unless things are perfectly aligned.”

Sullivan and his audience had gathered September 23 to celebrate the success of the Skilled Careers in Life Sciences (SCILS) Initiative – a four-year collaborative effort to help local workers launch careers in metro Boston’s booming life sciences industry. The numbers alone were cause for celebration: Over 85 percent of training graduates from the initiative’s first three years had gained new employment in the healthcare and biotechnology sectors.

four panelists at tables
Panelists at the SCILS celebratory event – Travis McCready, Sean Hemingway, Peter Abair, and John Finch – discuss the initiative’s results.

The SCILS Initiative, begun in 2012 with a $5 million federal grant to the City of Boston and bolstered by $3 million more in leveraged funds, provided over 500 unemployed and underemployed participants with services ranging from tuition support to internship placements to career coaching and networking opportunities in the life sciences industry.

Trinh Nguyen, director of the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development (OWD), which co-led the SCILS Initiative with PIC, summarized the initial challenge of this wide-ranging effort: “How can we connect those who are disconnected to a massive job growth industry? How do we get it done? And what are the results? Because at the end of the day, that’s what really matters.”

So how did SCILS get it done? The answer, the event’s panelists agreed, was partnerships. Career centers, colleges, training programs, and employers worked together to ensure participants received the education and training they needed to fill job openings in the life sciences. These stakeholders met in a quarterly consortium to exchange information on the sector’s staffing and skills needs.

“We have found kindred spirits in industry along the way,” said panelist Travis McCready, president & CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, which placed SCILS participants in paid life sciences internships with local companies. “They keep us on the straight and narrow to make sure the programs meet their needs.”

That need for workers is “seemingly inexhaustible,” said panelist Peter Abair, executive director of the MassBioEd Foundation, which researches trends in the life sciences industry. “In virtually every position in the biopharma industry [for example], we see growth.”

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Clare Shawcross, now a document writer for Shire, at the SCILS event.

Indeed, more than 225 local businesses and institutions employed SCILS participants in full-time and internship positions. One of these participants was Clare Shawcross, whose attendance at the celebratory event marked her own professional success.

Three years ago, Shawcross hoped to transition into a scientific field after two decades working in IT. The hunt was disheartening.

“I was hitting a wall in finding ads for an IT person to do science. There was no apparent bridge,” Shawcross said of her 8-month unemployment. “You feel very adrift. You’re powerless in a lot of ways.”

Her fortunes changed after she was referred to Boston University’s BioScience Academy, a 9-month SCILS-funded training program that offers an Applied Biotechnology certificate. After graduating, Shawcross found a contract position as a document writer at the biopharmaceutical company Shire, where she now works full-time.

Asked her thoughts on the SCILS Initiative, Shawcross waved her hand around the crowded room: “This is an amazingly powerful network of people who want to help those who don’t have a direct path into this field. It gives you faith.”

To learn more about the SCILS Initiative, read the SCILS Initiative’s final report or watch SCILS leaders discuss the initiative on Boston Neighborhood Network News. To learn more about who was helped by the initiative and how, see the post-report SCILS participation analysis of participants’ demographics, employment and education status, and program and credential completion.