Is there a life sciences skills gap – and what can we do about it?
More investment in the sector
Life sciences are at the heart of the British economy, with the UK the number one destination for life sciences inward investment in Europe and some of the strongest R&D capabilities in Europe. Turning over £70 billion annually, it’s clear the UK can’t afford to lose its grip on key skills and talent in the sector. While Brexit has caused ripples of concern, investment continues in the industry, with the government unveiling £1bn in life sciences investment late last year. This includes early disease detection technology developed between the government and industry using AI and a Life Sciences Sector Deal which aims to create high-paid, high-quality jobs as part of the Industrial Strategy. This is a clear indication of intent for the UK to remain at the top of the pack globally for life sciences, and to achieve this, we need to ensure we have the talent in place.
STEM subject shortfall
Interest in STEM subjects at high school and university level has stagnated in recent years, which poses a risk to the life sciences industry of the future. While the number of UK undergraduates studying STEM subjects has risen by 16% over the past ten years, we know that girls in England are significantly less likely than boys to consider taking STEM subjects at A-level, and it’s vital that this is addressed as we meet a future skills gap head on.
If UK students continue to fall behind the rest of the world when it comes to studying the sciences, we risk losing roles in the UK’s vital biotech and pharmaceuticals sectors overseas. The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry echoes this statement, saying that more needs to be done to encourage young people to study STEM subjects. Education bodies and employers need to do more to encourage young people to study STEM subjects, with apprenticeships and graduate schemes viable options to train up the next generation of talent.
Skills in demand
There has been some improvement in the skills shortage in recent years, with clinical pharmacology in particular seeing an upswing in popularity thanks to intensive effort from the ABPI, NHS and partners in life sciences. APBI’s skills surveys show that clinical pharmacology and bioinformatics skills continue to be highly sought after, with innovation in medicine development impacting the types of skills the industry requires most. Genomics and immunology are also under threat in the coming years, and it’s predicted that big data and informatics will underpin life science’s future success. High-quality training within the sector is vital in ensuring the right people are trained in the right areas, particularly as technology increasingly comes into play. Key skills required within the industry are complex and can overlap, with professionals often required to integrate computer skills with more traditional biological and chemical practices.
A lack of junior recruitment in previous years – particularly during the recession – means we are left with an ageing workforce, and highly specialised skillsets and experience are now in demand. This presents a prime opportunity for both clients and candidates. Those organisations that take on fresh talent and are prepared to train appropriately are more likely to meet skills gaps of the future. With technology’s stronghold on life sciences – and many other industries – ongoing, those candidates who show willingness and aptitude for new technologies and programmes are likely to have a competitive advantage in securing roles.
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