Experience Is the Best Teacher: How ArLab is Responding to Workforce Development Challenges Facing Greater Boston’s Healthcare and Biotech Sectors

By Megan Whitney

Learning happens best by doing. This is especially true for people building skills that they plan to use at work. Countless professions require hopeful job seekers to have some measure of experience, training, or skills, yet it can be challenging to find a place to learn, particularly when you need to do what you learn. Experience is the best teacher for people seeking skill-based jobs.

When students walk into a lab at 122 Arlington Street, they see all the equipment needed to zero in on the skills they learned in the classroom. While classroom learning provides foundational knowledge, experiential learning brings knowledge to life, right in front of each student’s eyes.

Certified Nursing Assistants-in-training interact with life-size mannequins in actual hospital beds. Future Central Sterile Processing Technicians learn to sterilize and repackage medical tools with hospital-grade equipment. The next generation of Biotech employees use fully outfitted laboratories to develop strong laboratory competencies. It is this hands-on, real-life experience that will prepare job seekers to become the biotech and healthcare workers that employers in Greater Boston need.

Contributing to workforce development initiatives in the face of an ever-changing job market is no small feat. There have been countless challenges in recent years that have impacted both the workforce, and the individuals who comprise it. There are clear gaps between the existing workforce system and the current job market. Yet JVS Boston and Quincy College are working to make impactful change through ArLab, a Healthcare and Biotechnology Career Institute.


Employment in Massachusetts

The current job market presents new challenges for those of us in workforce development. The Workforce Solutions Group states that “more than 1.9 million Massachusetts residents have experienced an employment interruption due to COVID” (Rapid Re-Employment for an Equitable Recovery, p. 3), and many people still struggle to find and retain jobs.

Not only did the pandemic impact the workforce in 2020, but we continue to see the effects in the following years. In a workforce that already displayed multi-level racial and economic disparities, the Massachusetts job market has been slow to recover from the blow of the pandemic. Now, many employers either find themselves laying off talented workers or struggling to find skilled workers to fill open roles.

In fact, for the first time since 2007, unemployment rates in Massachusetts exceeded the national average. Unemployment disproportionately impacts lower-wage workers, who are more likely to be “women, workers of color, young adults, and to have lower levels of educational attainment” (Rapid Re-Employment for an Equitable Recovery, p. 4-8). There is an obvious need for accessible and equitable solutions to the employment crisis in Massachusetts.

JVS and Quincy College strive to overcome such challenges by creating clear paths to education, employment, and economic independence. Dr. Richard DeCristofaro, President of Quincy College, says:

We have a deep understanding of the workforce needs of our region and have aligned our course offerings accordingly…that means JVS Boston clients can choose from a menu of course offerings designed to prepare them for entry into professionally satisfying and personally rewarding jobs in high-demand fields.”

There is a profound need for workforce development, especially in high-demand sectors like healthcare and biotechnology, where job-specific training is often required for employment.


Much-Needed Improvements in Workforce Development

People interested in healthcare and biotechnology careers require knowledge, skills, and training to be equipped to enter the current workforce as competitive applicants. Yet some individuals may struggle to find opportunities for such training. There is a critical shortage of workers in these sectors, so preparing people to get jobs through education, skills development, and job training has become more crucial than ever. Here are a few critical issues facing these two industries in Massachusetts, according to the Workforce Solutions Group (p. 8-9):

  • Accessible Entry into Healthcare Careers: There is not always a clear path to careers in healthcare. Many jobs in this industry require college-level education and skills. However, other steppingstones, like training and skill-based programs, can prepare people to acquire the hands-on training they need.


  • Educational Pathways: Employers often seek candidates that have the necessary education to begin careers in healthcare and biotechnology. Accessible education is paramount to increase employment and earning potential, so students can make tangible career advancements.


  • Qualified Candidates: Employers are in search of qualified candidates who require little on-the-job training so they can jump right into their work. There is a high demand for qualified individuals in specific sectors, yet there is a shortage of candidates who possess the required training and skills.


ArLab: A Response to Workforce Challenges

Enter ArLab, a career institute which primarily focuses on job training, educational pathways, and creating entry points for careers in healthcare. Courses and programs held at ArLab prepare students through instruction, experiential learning, and simulated training. This extensive, relevant preparation provides every student with practical knowledge and skills, so they can enter the workforce right away.

Not only does ArLab prepare people for work, but the longstanding partnerships that JVS and Quincy College have with employers means that ArLab students will be first in line for healthcare and biotech jobs upon the completion of their programs. JVS President & CEO, Kira Khazatsky, says:

 “ArLab encompasses the most critical aspects of successful workforce development strategies including accessibility, barrier removal, strong training models, industry recognized credentialing, and deep employer partnerships. ArLab is the solution healthcare and biotechnology fields need and our students deserve. It’s a win for job seekers, employers, and the Commonwealth and we could not be more excited for the impact it will have in this critical moment.”

ArLab specifically addresses the three workforce challenges listed above:

  • Create Accessible Entry into Healthcare Careers: JVS and Quincy College have spent years forging strong relationships with employers across Greater Boston. With combined expertise in higher education and workforce training, the unique partnership is well-suited to prepare workers for high-demand jobs so they can start their healthcare careers.


  • Develop Educational Pathways: By offering expedited education and training in one easily accessible location, ArLab helps students secure the skills, training, and credentials they need to increase their employment and earning potential in healthcare and biotechnology jobs.


  • Train Qualified Candidates: Outfitted with a biotechnology lab, sterile processing facility, pharmacy, and hospital patient rooms, ArLab offers students an extensive simulated training experience. This training prepares candidates to begin working right away.

With ArLab, people in Greater Boston can prepare themselves for the next step in their healthcare and biotechnology careers.

Learn more about ArLab on Instagram and LinkedIn, @arlab_boston.

Resources: Rapid Re-Employment for an Equitable Recovery

ArLab: Healthcare and Biotechnology Career InstituteJVS + Quincy College

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