An interview with Lori Lindburg and Liisa Bozinovic, two women who are strengthening the ties between academia and industry to help both sides of the life sciences coin.
Lori Lindburg is the President and CEO of the California Life Sciences Institute (CLSI) while Liisa Bozinovic is the Executive Director of Biocom Institute. Lori and Liisa work together within the Coalition of State Bioscience Institutes (CSBI), a 42-state coalition that provides national leadership on workforce development, bioscience education, and entrepreneurship. CSBI is best known for their Workforce Trends Report, a snapshot of the current and projected needs in the life sciences industry. The most recent report, 2016, is available online at the CSBI website.
Lori co-founded CSBI in 2012 when she and some of her counterparts in other states lamented that, while there was a national organization for best practice sharing among life sciences industry associations (CSBA), there wasn’t any similar organization for their institute and foundation affiliates such as CLSI and the Biocom Institute. Liisa is now Chair of the Coalition and I spoke with them by phone to get their views on opportunities and obstacles within the life sciences. The following is an excerpt from our conversation, terms and organizations are defined at the end of the text.
Beth: For both of you, can you provide a quick glimpse of how you got to be where you are?
Liisa: I have a degree in accounting and earned my CPA after college. I was in both public and private accounting for a number of years, working in a variety of industries including medical device and, for a short time, in biotech. At the medical device manufacturing organization, in addition to being the Controller, I was responsible for recruiting talent, including manufacturing technicians for our ISO certified clean rooms. I learned a lot about the various community colleges in the area and their training programs, which has served me well in my role with the Institute. Previously, I worked for Biocom for many years was able to wear a few different hats including an opportunity to work on issues relevant to the Human Resource professionals in Biocom’s member base. I was offered the role as the Head of the Institute in 2014 and although I had to step out of my comfort zone into a more external facing role, it has been very rewarding to draw on my experiences in the life science industry and fill a need in closing the gap between industry and academia.
Lori: I have a non-profit management background, and was in a career that involved getting business involved in helping disadvantaged groups overcome socioeconomic barriers in the job market. I worked in Europe, working with government and business to define and apply best practices for including underrepresented groups as employees and in business supply chains. When I moved back to the States, I was working with welfare-to-work, and then low-income-to-work groups to connect them to careers in high-growth sectors. When the dot.com bust happened, biotech was still growing and I decided to focus there. I worked on a collaboration with the Bridge to Bioscience, a City College of San Francisco program, to connect low-income adults to biotech careers. As a result, I got to see first-hand what community colleges can do to prepare students for careers by collaborating with industry. After coming on board at CLSI, I have continued to promote industry collaborations with community colleges and other academic partners as part of a “win-win” strategy for both students and companies. This is a view that both Liisa and I have brought to the national CSBI.
Beth: What do you believe is the most important task for CSBI in the next 1-3 years?
Liisa: We need to identify the key partnerships and funding for our joint, national projects. We do a great job of leveraging contributions from a variety of member organization across the country to deliver on our initiatives, but our goal was always to support that work with funding that could be captured by the individual organizations
Lori: Along with this we need to continue to build a Community of Practice to find ways to share best practices to be more effective in what we do. Through shared learning with our counterparts, we don’t have to start from scratch and can build on successful programs from other states.
Lori: Why did we need CSBI? It is different from the CSBA in that it focuses more closely on Education, Workforce Development, and Entrepreneurship, and we wanted to elevate the industry focus on these areas. Over the last year, we have been able to successfully integrate CSBI within CSBA as a committee structure. This integration has validated the importance of CSBI and the importance of industry attention to these critical areas. As I mentioned, a central theme we are promoting is the importance of industry/academic partnerships to build talent. This has been a recurring theme in each of our three national reports and something we focused on in a panel at the last annual CSBA retreat. The panel highlighted a number of innovative industry/academic partnerships with high schools, community colleges and universities that are developing students while helping companies. In working more closely with CSBA, by highlighting collaborations that work, we have been able to demonstrate that community colleges are very effective in talent development for industry.
Liisa: The challenge is bandwidth. New leaders have emerged but we need more of them. Thankfully we have built a very supportive network, but more involvement is always needed. We are working thoughtfully to build a distributed leadership so that the burden does not fall on too few shoulders. In particular, we are trying to forge additional ties with academia. Our life science workforce trends report has proven to be very helpful to academic programs as they try to position themselves and their programs with the needs of industry in mind. The report includes information from Burning Glass, a job market data firm, and interviews with CEOs,
Lori: Our ability to forge partnerships can be impeded by a lack of funding, and sometimes by partner fatigue. Some industry partners have told us they have been hit with multiple surveys about employment trends from various academic organizations and non-profits, and would prefer to do this through their state organizations to avoid duplication. As representatives of the industry in our state, CLSI and Biocom Institute have produced a California report, which - in addition to the interviews with life science executives and Burning Glass data we use in the national report - also includes survey data from Human Resource and hiring managers, adding an additional quantitative element to the report. Other states have also wanted to produce their own state reports, and have been open to partnering with community colleges to do so, but thus far we have not been able to raise the funding to add this additional survey data set for the states.
Liisa: Our partnerships with community colleges have been particularly rewarding. Our champions within the community colleges are known to go the extra mile in helping their students’ transition into the workforce and are creative enough to respond to industry needs in a relatively rapid way. As the “supply side” of supply and demand for biotech talent, they often have connections with industry on a personal level; one-on-one connections between a faculty member and a hiring manager. They rely on organizations like ours to better understand the demand trends in the industry as a whole. We see CSBI as playing a role in fostering a deeper connection on an organizational level. CSBI can also help industry understand what community college students are capable of contributing to their organizations once hired.
Lori: Right, we work on the “Demand side” of Supply and Demand. The Workforce Trends report is widely used as a source of up-to-date industry “Demand” data. While the quantitative date is very valuable, we also gain a lot of insightful and nuanced information through the interviews with life science employers. Through conversations with them, we have heard, for instance, of the imperative that our students know the business side, and not just the science side, of the life sciences. Executives also increasingly want employees who are able to cope with ambiguity and change because of the significant churn in the industry. And this is also where we’ve learned about the value that many in our industry our placing on their partnerships with academia for sourcing and developing talent.
Beth: Thank you for your time Lori and Liisa— there is a lot going on in the life sciences world in both the academic and the industry sides!
Terms and Organizations
Burning Glass Data: Burning Glass is an analytics software company that delivers real-time job market data