Jobs prescription

A nationwide training plan has been launched by the bioscience and pharmaceutical industries to plug a growing skills gap, reports Andrew Lee.

The bioscience and pharmaceutical industries have launched a national skills development plan in an effort to boost the number of high-quality UK recruits available to companies operating in the sectors.

The initiative will help businesses to co-operate at national and regional levels and engage with organisations such as universities and professional bodies to help plug what is feared to be a serious skills gap.

Research by Semta, the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing, revealed that four out of 10 bio/pharma companies are experiencing so-called ‘hard to fill’ vacancies.

Alarmingly for an area that is seen as vital to the UK’s future technology economy, a quarter of firms said a lack of skilled people was preventing them from expanding. Skilled staff from India, eastern Europe and Malaysia have been employed by many companies to fill the gaps, but employers are worried that this is a dwindling option as domestic demand in those areas increases and UK work permits become harder to obtain.

The 10-year Bioscience Sector Skills Agreement will attempt to boost the UK’s domestic skills base through a range of measures, including the development of a co-ordinated network of employer clusters with shared training provision.

Other initiatives will include the launch of university short courses geared around the needs of professional development and more suitable degree content with an emphasis on increased practical activity. More generally, the plan hopes to improve bio/pharma’s image as an attractive industry in which to work.

Companies involved in the scheme have produced an industry standard set of skills and competencies that will act as a platform for job specifications, recruitment and training needs in the sectors.

One specific concern for the industry is the generic nature of many existing competency standards, which are deemed to be insufficient for the highly diverse and complex nature of the companies working in the sector.

The bio/pharma sector covers a wide variety of businesses ranging from bioscience start-ups to pharmaceutical multinationals, and also includes companies such as medical equipment manufacturers. It is worth an estimated £3.3bn a year to the UK economy.

Employers that are working with Semta on the Sector Skills Agreement include 3M Healthcare, AstraZeneca, Novartis, Eden BioDesign and Pfizer.

Richard Dennett, head ofconsultancy services for EdenBiodesign, said: ‘These new standards are the key to obtaining and holding onto the new young people we need.

‘Not only will they providepractical criteria for training industrial placement students and new graduates, but they will also help our current staff.’