Guest Column | September 20, 2022

Nonprofit Org Sees A New Way To Train CTA Talent

By Stephanie Eid and Michelle Pratt, Halloran Consulting Group

Training skills learning GettyImages-1353769234

The supply of qualified candidates to fuel the Massachusetts-area life sciences industry has not kept up with the growing demand for talent. Currently, there are approximately 40,000 vacancies in Massachusetts alone due to the rapid growth of the industry, and there are many local individuals who have the potential aptitude and passion for life sciences work but lack an entry point. All these factors have placed the traditional industry career pathway in the spotlight.

We’ve observed an overreliance by the industry on highly educated, specialized workers to fill many employment gaps, and yet, those gaps are not narrowing. There is an opportunity to expand the workforce beyond traditional career pathway expectations to be more inclusive, providing options in the broad scope of life science careers for candidates who may not have previously had access or awareness.

Training the next generation of industry talent is a challenge that MassBioEd, a Massachusetts-based non-profit 501(c)(3) organization with a mission to build a sustainable life sciences workforce in the region, is working to solve. More specifically, it created two apprenticeship programs in 2021: one for biomanufacturing technicians (BMT) and another for clinical trial associates (CTA). These apprenticeships are accelerated and paid training opportunities for individuals new to the industry to gain foundational knowledge and acquire industry-recognized skills. The recruitment goal is to find people that are work-ready and demonstrate a real passion for a career in life sciences.

Though successful in its mission, the MassBioEd CTA Apprenticeship program has collected some lessons learned to carry forward into the 2023 cohort. As with any green talent, sponsor companies must plan to appropriately onboard and provide support and mentorship to their junior employees (apprentices) in order to set them up for success. Sponsor companies must move through this reimagined career development path together with their apprentices, listening and adapting, to ultimately support narrowing of the talent gap and reducing retention challenges.

CTA Apprentice Program At-A-Glance

MassBioEd performs outreach and connects with life sciences companies to gauge their interest in the CTA apprenticeship program. Once a company opts into the program, they become a sponsoring company (sponsor).

MassBioEd recruits candidates by working with veterans’ support groups, migrant support groups, adult education centers, posting on, and listing opportunities in digital newspapers. These efforts help to reach a new pool of talent and offer opportunities to more diverse populations that were likely unaware of this program.

The recruitment process begins with an educational session for candidates to provide them with background knowledge of the CTA role and the life sciences industry at large. Candidates complete basic math, English, and communication tests and behavioral interviews. Each candidate has a background check, and when a candidate makes it through all these steps, they’re invited to the semi-finalist round, where they interview with sponsor companies to determine best fit. Ultimately, the hiring decision lands with the sponsor.

Once there is a cohort of sponsor–apprentice matches, the apprentices begin their three-month educational training for about 20 hours per week. The curriculum has been designed in close partnership with the apprenticeship program working group, made up of sponsor company leaders and the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) – the educational provider. In tandem, apprentices attend a weekly class dedicated to communication and relationship-based skills to learn tactics like giving and receiving feedback, how to get along with challenging team members, and how to thrive in a virtual environment. Apprentices also attend a Biotech 101 class, which provides a high-level overview of cell and molecular biology, genetic engineering, and cell and gene therapy.

Setting Up The Next Generation For Success

After the three-month educational component, the apprentices transition to a year of on-the-job training, receiving apprenticeship wages as a full-time employee. Traditional benefits are provided, such as sponsor-provided health insurance, paid time off, and paid holidays. Additionally, there is a fee paid by sponsors to MassBioEd for candidate recruitment.

Each apprentice is assigned a dedicated manager to help them along on their journey. We have collected best practices from the current cohort of managers, which have been essential to maximizing the apprenticeship program experience and are transferable to managing any green employee:

  • Create a Warm and Welcoming Culture: The onboarding experience is an apprentice’s first tangible exposure to a company. Help them see they made the right choice joining the program. Some best practices are to assign an Onboarding Buddy to provide casual, nonjudgmental support, hold an in-person or virtual lunch or meet and greet, and make introductions to key players associated with the apprentice’s role (i.e., peers they can direct questions to, colleagues who hold/held the same role, team members they will be interacting with on a regular basis, department leadership, etc.).
  • Understand the Role as an Apprentice Manager: The apprenticeship program is on-the-job training and apprentices are not expected to jump right into their new role but will need an investment of time and training by the manager. Also, take the time to continue to refine management skillsets. Learn, digest, and act on best practices for managers through MassBioEd-related or other-sourced content.
  • Provide Consistent Coaching and Support: Keeping a regular pulse on the workload and experience of an apprentice will help the manager to adapt to their management needs. Hold frequent check-ins, even if it seems like overkill, so that the apprentice feels supported and is set up for success. Incorporate work-related behavioral questions like “are you feeling fulfilled?” and celebrate successes together to measure their well-being, mental health, learning, and progress.
  • Ensure the Apprentice has an Effective Mentor: Take the time to match personalities and skillsets when choosing a mentor for the apprentice. Intentional pairing and continuous mentorship are critical to success.
  • Assign the Apprentice Tasks Associated with Their Role: Apprentices and admins are not interchangeable. Giving them menial tasks or tasks unrelated to training or building skillsets in their role will create frustration and lack of buy-in. Be intentional with their assignments and ensure they fit into an overall development plan.
  • Maintain a Mindset of Continuous Improvement: Instead of measuring the apprentice by technical adequacy and meeting deliverables, focus on their continual improvement. This will enable the apprentice to feel they are progressing and growing, giving them confidence to take on additional responsibilities and stretch themselves.

Taking in these suggestions may require a shift in the sponsor company mindset to successfully onboard an apprentice, provide an avenue of continued learning, and create a place for the apprentice to build skills and confidence to take their life sciences career to the next level to achieve overall industry goals. When done well, programs like this create the impact our industry needs to meet the major recruitment shifts we’ve been seeing for years and for more years to come.

Halloran Consulting Group has been a major supporter of this initiative, aligning with the mission of training the next generation of industry talent, and is one of the first sponsor companies participating in launch of the program’s 2022 cohort of CTA apprentices. “We need to stop stealing each other’s talent, so we’re building new talent to address the talent gap,” stated Laurie Halloran, president and CEO of Halloran Consulting Group.

About The Authors:

Stephanie Eid has more than 10 years of clinical operations experience in clinical study start-up, conduct, and close-out for Phase I-IV trials for small biotech and large pharmaceutical companies. She focuses on providing clinical project management support to clients by managing all aspects of the execution and delivery of clinical trials, including overseeing vendors, leading cross-functional teams, driving recruitment and enrollment initiatives, and developing and maintaining budgets and timelines.

Michelle Pratt is an associate director of consulting operations at Halloran Consulting Group. She has over 15 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry. Her career has focused on scientific leadership, project management, training, employee development, mentoring, process improvement, departmental oversight, and business operations. Before joining Halloran, Pratt served in global roles including director of operations and director of scientific and medical services at Parexel Medical Imaging. She holds an MS in clinical investigation from the Boston University School of Medicine and an MBA from Fox School of Business at Temple University.