Report | Evolving Workforces

Life Sciences Research Talent 2022

The Search to Sustain an Industry Boom

13 Jun 2022 10 Minute Read

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Executive Summary

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U.S. Market Spotlights

  • More professionals are engaged in life sciences research in the United States than ever before.
    This group grew 79% between 2001-2021 compared with 8% growth for all U.S. occupations.
  • A record number of people are graduating with life sciences expertise.
    U.S. graduates in biological and biomedical sciences, totaled more than 163,000 in 2020—a record number and double the number just 15 years ago.
  • But finding life sciences research talent may prove extremely difficult.
    Life, physical and social science occupations had the second-lowest unemployment rate of all U.S. occupations in April 2022 at 0.6%.
  • CBRE has identified the best markets for accessing life sciences research talent.
    • Not surprisingly, the preponderance of research talent exists along the East Coast, stretching from Boston/Cambridge to Raleigh-Durham, as well as the West Coast, anchored by the San Francisco Bay Area.
    • However, significant pockets of talent exist in Chicago, Denver/Boulder, Houston, Dallas/Ft. Worth and Minneapolis/St. Paul, among other major metros.
    • Talent pools are emerging rapidly in markets such as Salt Lake City, Nashville, Columbus, Albuquerque and Tucson.
  • Salaries for U.S. life sciences researchers are considerably higher than other occupations, and show less variability across markets relative to cost of living indices.
    As such, employers may not achieve a financial benefit by hiring researchers in lower-cost markets.

Introduction

The life sciences revolution remains robust.

A variety of megatrends (demographic, economic, technological, etc.) coupled with rapid advances in technology have boosted life sciences growth over the last decade. More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic catapulted the life sciences industry to a new level of prominence with cutting-edge innovations.

Fierce competition for talent—exacerbated by demographic changes, pandemic-induced burnout and shifting family responsibilities—presents challenges as the industry seeks to meet growing demand for its products and services.

A furious search for talent presents challenges as the industry seeks to meet growing demand for its products and services.
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Figure 1 shows the severity of the broader talent shortage where the number of unemployed people available for each job opening is at a record low.

Figure 1: Unemployed People per Job Opening (U.S.)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, JOLTS, Q1 2022.

The life sciences industry is among the hardest-hit industries in the U.S. Figure 2 shows a variety of occupations supporting the life sciences industry. All of these roles are facing some labor availability challenges, but the scientific and professional roles are under the most intense pressure.

Figure 2: Unemployment Rates by U.S. Occupational Category

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2022. Not Seasonally Adjusted Data.

As noted in CBRE’s recent analysis of the labor issue, employers can counter this trend by addressing employees’ pain points, optimizing flexible work arrangements, fostering cultures that transcend physical space and tapping new markets for talent.

This report focuses on jobs central to the industry’s research functions, highlighting key trends such as the pace of industry research talent growth, where research talent is located and growing and the best markets for emerging talent.

U.S. Life Sciences Research Talent Trends

As total employment has rebounded from the 2020 downturn, the life sciences industry has continued to grow at its fastest pace on record.

Most of these new jobs are in roles outside of the core research functions and can include sales, accounting and administration positions.

But much of the innovation that drives new products and solutions emanate from life sciences research functions, such as biochemists, biological scientists, chemists, and skilled laboratory support staff.

Figure 3 shows the growth of various roles over the past 20 years, which reached a new record in 2021. The largest research occupation is medical scientists (excluding epidemiologists), which totals more than 132,000 and has grown 131% over the past 20 years.

Figure 3: U.S. Life Sciences Researchers by Occupation

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, CBRE Research, Q1 2022.

Chemists, the next largest life sciences research occupation, have grown below average over the past 20 years, reflecting the shift to biologics over recent decades. Since 2001, much greater growth has been recorded among biochemists and biophysicists (167%) other biological scientists (87%), and notably data scientists (1,363%). Many data scientists work in the high technology and software industries and have a lesser presence in scientific research, but they increasingly fuel life sciences research and have skyrocketed in number over the last 20 years.

Figure 4 shows the growth of occupations in life sciences research compared with all other occupations in the U.S. economy. The figure shows the vastly faster pace of growth with little end in sight. The share of these occupations in the U.S. economy has continued to increase over the past 20 years, becoming a larger, but still small, presence in the workforce.

Figure 4: Change since 2001 in U.S. Life Sciences Research Occupations vs. All U.S. Occupations

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, CBRE Research, Q1 2022.

Figure 5: Life Sciences Researchers as a Share of All U.S. Occupations

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, CBRE Research, Q1 2022.

The Pipeline of Emerging Research Talent

The industry’s rapid growth, coupled with constraints in the labor market, make accessing emerging talent from the nation’s colleges and universities an increasing focus.

Reflecting the push since 2001 to address the shortfall in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in the U.S., biological and biomedical sciences degrees and certificates have increased 103% over the past 15 years. As more students flock to these fields, the pipeline of talent appears to be growing sufficiently in line with the industry’s expansion.

Biological and biomedical sciences degrees and certificates have increased 103% over the past 15 years.
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Figure 6 shows the highest number of U.S. degrees and certificates ever conferred (163,768) in biological and biomedical sciences in the academic year ending in 2020. Figure 7 illustrates the growth in degrees granted in biological and biomedical sciences and all degrees since the academic year ending in 2005, showing a significantly higher growth trajectory in degrees supporting life sciences research than all other disciplines.

Figure 6: Biological and Biomedical Sciences Degrees and Certificates Awarded at U.S. Postsecondary Institutions

Source: U.S. Dept. of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, CBRE Research, Q1 2022.

Figure 7: U.S. Degrees/Certificates Awarded at Postsecondary Institutions

Source: U.S. Dept. of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, CBRE Research, Q1 2022.

Top 25 U.S. Metros for Life Sciences Research Talent

Methodology & Approach

  • CBRE’s analysis encompassed the largest 74 U.S. life sciences labor markets (generally metropolitan areas with populations of at least 750,000) and evaluated each on various occupational and educational data. We then standardized the data to see how far each metro area deviated from the average of the group. The standardized scores for each variable were then summed for each metro area to provide a final score as shown in figure 8.
  • We identified the most relevant occupations underpinning growth in the life sciences industry as well as those people graduating with the most relevant degrees. We measured and evaluated, in terms of absolute number and market density, the various indicators on occupations and graduates.
  • Many of the relative scores were weighted according to how closely they correlated to data from Boston/Cambridge, San Francisco Bay Area, and San Diego. As the premier life sciences hubs, these markets likely reflect the most ideal elements for success as a life sciences cluster.
  • This logic supported the inclusion of two other datapoints – the concentration of all Ph.D.s in a metro area and the concentration of employment in the professional, scientific and technical services industries. This analysis is more reflective of success as a general cluster than specifically life sciences, but were highly correlated with the premier and secondary life sciences markets.

The leading talent pools for life sciences researchers are along the East Coast, stretching from Boston/Cambridge to Raleigh-Durham, as well as the West Coast, anchored by the San Francisco Bay Area. The mass and density of talent available leads to these markets’ success.

The nation’s two largest life sciences clusters, Boston/Cambridge and San Francisco Bay Area, are both ideal destinations for talent. Boston/Cambridge is exemplary in almost every datapoint, and benefits from higher densities and concentrations of talent. The San Francisco Bay Area benefits from its high-tech presence, notably in data scientists, but its larger job base dilutes some of the impact of life sciences occupations overall.

San Diego, Raleigh-Durham, and Seattle also flourish, particularly due to their unusually strong concentrations of educated life sciences talent and employment.

The leading talent pools for life sciences researchers are along the East Coast, stretching from Boston/Cambridge to Raleigh-Durham, as well as the West Coast, anchored by the San Francisco Bay Area.
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The major population centers of Washington, D.C./Baltimore, New York/New Jersey, Los Angeles/Orange County, Philadelphia and Chicago benefit from their sizeable, world-leading universities and industry presence which offer an abundant talent pool for life sciences companies.

Denver/Boulder, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Houston, Atlanta, Dallas/Ft. Worth and Miami, though sometimes overlooked, also have world-class health centers and universities, and in turn, sizable pools of life sciences research talent.

Finally, many other metro areas place highly on our rankings. The larger markets, such as Sacramento, Austin, Salt Lake City, Nashville, Pittsburgh and Portland, OR, benefit mostly from their offerings of highly educated talent, but also significant concentrations of life sciences researchers. The smaller markets, such as Worcester, MA, New Haven, CT, and Albany, NY, benefit from similar strengths, but also from their proximity to Boston/Cambridge and New York/New Jersey.

Figure 8: Top 25 Life Sciences Research Talent Clusters

Source: CBRE Research, Q1 2022.

U.S. Clusters of Existing Life Sciences Researchers

Underscoring where the most lucrative reservoirs of existing life sciences research talent are located, Figure 9 shows the positive correlation between a market’s absolute number of life sciences researchers and its density of those researchers.

Ideally, the most favorable pools will be in markets that demonstrate both high absolute numbers of talent and strong concentration in life sciences.

Notably, higher-ranked markets, according to our talent evaluation, appear in the upper right quadrant of the chart; unranked markets, which are not identified on the chart, almost wholly exist in the lower left quadrant.

Figure 9 also demonstrates that those markets farthest above the trendline, and to the left (New York/New Jersey, Washington, D.C./Baltimore, Los Angeles/Orange County, etc.), offer a greater absolute mass of talent, though that talent can be dispersed across a wider geography, and number of institutions and private companies.

On the other hand, those markets farther below, and to the right of, the trendline offer a greater concentration and density of life sciences research talent (Raleigh-Durham, San Diego, Salt Lake City, etc.), which may be overlooked due to their relative smaller size, but clearly offer an intense, thriving ecosystem that will support growth.

Figure 9: U.S. Clusters of Life Sciences Research Talent by Number and Density

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Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, CBRE Research, Q1 2022.

Figure 10: Number and Density of Subtype of Life Sciences Research Talent by Market

*Scroll down to view data for all 25 markets.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, CBRE Research, Q1 2022.

Ideally, the most favorable pools will be in markets that demonstrate both high absolute numbers of talent and strong concentration in life sciences.
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There are several emerging clusters of research talent growing faster than average. Between 2015 and 2020, Figure 11 shows the markets with unusually rapid growth were secondary or emerging life sciences hubs, like Nashville, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Salt Lake City, Atlanta and Miami. Some of the outsized growth in these markets is due to their world-class research institutions such as Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, where National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding grew by more than 50% between 2016-2021.

These smaller life sciences clusters also benefit from larger, demographic tailwinds as some of the fastest growing regions in the U.S. and saw a boost of in-migration in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic arose. This Covid-driven migration in 2020 may have disproportionately, and temporarily, dampened the growth of such key markets as the San Francisco Bay Area, Washington, D.C./Baltimore, and Los Angeles/Orange County.

Figure 11: Growth of Life Sciences Researchers 2015-2020

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, CBRE Research, Q1 2022.

Sources of Emerging Life Sciences Researchers

Supplying a pipeline of talent to fuel the continued expansion of the life sciences industry is of primary importance.

Some markets demonstrate an ability to offer that needed talent more than others. Some markets should be considered more for accessing greater numbers of talent, and others for offering unique concentrations of emerging specialty talent.

Larger metropolitan areas tend to have more educational institutions offering companies more graduates to access.
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Figure 12 shows the top ranked U.S. life sciences talent clusters sorted by total graduates in biological and biomedical sciences ending the 2020 academic year.

Clearly, size of metropolitan area and the tendency to have more educational institutions offers more graduates for companies to access. Figure 12 shows the nation’s two largest metropolitan areas, New York/New Jersey and Los Angeles/Orange County, producing the most graduates in biological and biomedical sciences. Chicago, the nation’s third-largest metro is not far behind, and the Northeast metros of Boston/Cambridge, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C./Baltimore have a major influence with their prestigious institutions. For its relative size, San Diego produces a disproportionate number of graduates in biological and biomedical sciences.

Figure 12 also shows the percentage of all Ph.D.s granted in biological and biomedical sciences in all major metros. Evaluating each market based on how many doctorates they produce, as opposed to all degrees, suggests a higher level of specialty and sophistication of study in some markets. The data shows New York/New Jersey grants the greater number and share of Ph.D.s in biological and biomedical sciences, but some of this is due to its simply larger student population. Other markets with outsized shares of Ph.D.s granted include Boston/Cambridge (e.g., Harvard, MIT), Washington, D.C./Baltimore (e.g., Johns Hopkins, George Washington University), San Francisco Bay Area (e.g., Stanford, Berkeley), Raleigh-Durham (e.g., Duke, University of North Carolina), Los Angeles/Orange County (e.g., UCLA, USC, UC-Irvine), and Houston (e.g., Rice University, University of Houston).

Figure 12: Life Sciences Educational Trends in Top U.S. Clusters

Source: U.S. Dept. of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, CBRE Research, Q1 2022.

Figure 13: Graduates in Biological and Biomedical Sciences in Top U.S. Clusters

*Scroll down to view data for all 25 markets.
Source: U.S. Dept. of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, CBRE Research, Q1 2022.

Educated and Scientifically-Inclined Clusters Are Where Life Sciences Talent Thrives

In addition to the presence of existing and emerging research talent, life sciences research talent is shown to thrive and grow most notably in markets where general education levels are very high, and a high concentration of people are employed in the professional, scientific and technical industries.

Several key elements support thriving life sciences research clusters. A number of preeminent universities and institutions and their researchers, who have undertaken cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs, have recently transformed the industry. Boston/Cambridge (Harvard University, Broad Institute), the San Francisco Bay Area (Stanford University, Gladstone) and San Diego (University of California San Diego, Scripps Research) show how influential universities and institutions have been in supporting a thriving ecosystem. Undoubtedly, institutional partnerships with local industry and government incentives help separate more vibrant life sciences clusters than others.

A number of preeminent universities and institutions and their researchers, who have undertaken cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs, have recently transformed the industry.
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A local, historical presence of private industry—and its talent—also influence why some markets thrive as a cluster. Finally, the availability of capital to fund growth is essential to a thriving life sciences ecosystem, whether it be venture capital or institutional funding. Accompanying this is the need for proper infrastructure for an ecosystem to grow, such as modern laboratory, incubator and manufacturing space.

It is clear life sciences ecosystems more broadly thrive in places with an abundance of educated, professional and scientific talent. Some of our analysis determined an unusually strong positive correlation with two particular datapoints: the percentage of total residents with a Ph.D. (regardless of discipline) and the percentage employed in the broader industry category of professional, scientific and technical services. Figure 14 demonstrates how strongly correlated most of the nation’s most dynamic life sciences research clusters are with these datapoints as Boston/Cambridge, the San Francisco Bay Area, Raleigh-Durham, Washington, D.C./Baltimore and San Diego sit well-positioned from the pack in the upper right, while no top 25 research clusters sit in the lower left quadrant of below-average concentrations in either of these datapoints.

Figure 14: Concentration of Ph.D. Holders and Persons Employed in Professional, Scientific and Technical Services

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Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, CBRE Research, Q1 2022.

Figure 15: Boston Area Life Science Research Talent (Inset maps identify optimal sources of life sciences researchers for three key lab/R&D submarkets)

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Boston/Cambridge Case Study: Life Sciences Research Talent at the Micro Level

Determining where life sciences research talent exists at the local level requires another level of analysis.

In the Boston/Cambridge market, for example, optimal talent pools of life sciences research talent exist along two of the region's notable subway lines: the Green line, running west through Brookline and Newton, and the Red Line, stretching through Cambridge and the city of Boston.

Inset maps in figure 15 show how three key life sciences submarkets capture labor from slightly different geographies in the region.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, CBRE Research, Q2 2022.

The availability of capital to fund growth is essential to a thriving life sciences ecosystem, whether it be venture capital or institutional funding.
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Life Sciences Research Talent Income and Wage Trends

Salaries for life sciences occupations are generally far higher than the average of all U.S. occupations, but across metro areas, life sciences salaries vary less relative to the local cost of living.

As a result, the salary of a biochemist in Pittsburgh, for example, may be more than one might expect considering the lower cost of living. On the other hand, the salary of a biochemist in Boston or San Diego may not be as high as one may think, especially relative to lower-cost markets like Pittsburgh. In short, companies may have less incentive to seek life sciences research talent in lower-cost markets. At the same time, it appears to be more beneficial, purely from a financial standpoint, for scientists and researchers to be located in Houston or Raleigh-Durham, for example, where salaries are very high and the cost of living relatively low.

Figure 16: Average Annual Salaries for Select Life Sciences Research Occupations

*Scroll down to view data for all 25 markets.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, CBRE Research, Q1 2022.

Figure 17: Ratio of Average Annual Biochemist Salary to Local Cost of Living

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, CBRE Research, Q1 2022.

The incentive for companies to seek less-expensive life sciences research talent may not be as lucrative as one may envision.

Emerging (Possibly Untapped) Hubs for Life Sciences Research Talent

Our analysis revealed many markets that may be worthy of employers' attention due to the density of life sciences research talent.

The markets shown in Figure 18 are a combination of emerging life sciences research clusters in our top 25 ranking, or markets that scored favorably but did not make it into the top 25. All of them have attractive attributes of talent and benefit from significant local research institutions.

Figure 18: Emerging Life Sciences Clusters of Research Talent

Image of U.S. Map

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Institutes of Health (NIH), CBRE Research, Q1 2022.

Purpose May Be Paramount

For life sciences research talent, purpose may be a paramount motivation in their careers right now.

Historically, the ability to make a positive difference in the lives of patients has always been a major criterion for life sciences researchers deciding what companies to join and where to contribute their skills.

Today, this ideal has become more important than ever, especially as talented people have more options in the labor market. Anecdotal observations from our clients and around the industry suggest that researchers are placing an increasing emphasis on a company’s purpose and mission to make a difference in patient lives. From Big Pharma to emerging biotech startups, employers across the industry report similar hiring experiences.

Data from employee surveys confirms the anecdotal evidence (Figure 19). Many employees around the world from different industries have reevaluated the role of work in their lives over the last couple of years.

The emergence of values-driven work emanates from the pandemic, and new appreciation for the social impact of the work they are doing. More people seek meaning in their work and want to be aligned with companies that share their values, provide a flexible and supportive culture and communicate a compelling story for why they should dedicate their intellectual capital to a particular organization.

Figure 19: The pandemic has...

Note: Survey of 3,500 employees around the world.
Source: Gartner 2021 Hybrid and Return to Work Survey.

Conclusion

The life sciences revolution remains firmly in place but the search for talent has become more challenging.

To support stakeholders in the life sciences industry, CBRE has identified the top 25 U.S. clusters that offer the most favorable opportunities for accessing research talent to fuel growth and expansion.

Some markets offer access to large numbers of talent, while others offer smaller but clearly thriving life sciences research ecosystems. The most research talent exists along the U.S. East Coast stretching from Boston/Cambridge to Raleigh-Durham as well as the West Coast, anchored by the San Francisco Bay Area, but significant pockets of talent also exist in Chicago, Denver/Boulder, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Atlanta and Houston. However, possibly untapped sources of talent are emerging rapidly in markets such as Salt Lake City, Nashville, Columbus, Albuquerque and Tucson. It is notable, especially when evaluating future sources of talent and expansion, that the most successful clusters ultimately thrive where an abundance of highly-educated people live and work in the professional, scientific and technical industries more broadly.

The U.S. educational system continues to produce a record number of students with the skills to meet the demands of this sector and to fuel its ongoing growth, sustaining the U.S.’s position as a global leader in the life sciences industry.

Most successful clusters ultimately thrive where an abundance of highly educated people live and work in the professional, scientific and technical industries more broadly.
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U.S. Market Spotlights

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