Workforce and skills: Life skills

While university graduates will always be essential to the life sciences industry, changing conditions and end-user needs mean employers with a one track mind on skills sourcing may be at a disadvantage. Sector skills council Cogent aims to create beacons of best practice in diverse skills sourcing.

The UK life sciences industry is worth around £50bn to the UK economy and it is among the sectors targeted for growth by Business Secretary Vince Cable in the industrial strategy he announced this September. Prime Minister David Cameron has described the sector as a “jewel in our economic crown.”

But realising the full potential of UK capability in life sciences will be difficult. The sector comprises many sub sectors and multiple disciplines, the interaction of which breeds complexity in the delivery of products which reflect changing societal requirements.

Life science firms are straining to develop business models and incorporate new technologies which enable them to service shifts towards treatment of lifestyle, home treatment and early indicator diagnosis of disease rather than simply addressing illness.

Diagnosing best practice

The evolving industry model requires a recalibration of skills, value chains, methods of collaboration and more. Focussing on the first requirement, sectors skills council Cogent has launched a new awards programme to encourage best practice in the development of clearly structured skills strategies. The initiative was announced during its annual Westminster Skills Forum at the House of Commons on October 16.

Cogent has a vision to help the life sciences sector solve its problems in effectively recruiting, developing and maintaining talent through encouraging a more balanced portfolio of entry routes into the industry. Critically this includes pushing for an increased recognition of the usefulness of higher and advanced apprentice schemes in life science companies.

The sector has traditionally recruited its talent at graduate level and many companies are dubious about the ability of modern apprenticeship schemes at NVQ levels 4 (and above) to deliver the abilities they need. This is despite a growing stack of case studies pointing toward high value-add from apprentices in the sector, the collaboration of the University of Kent in delivering a carefully created higher apprenticeship/foundation degree programme for life sciences and the availability of employer support in delivering apprenticeships through Cogent’s Technical Apprenticeship Service (TAS).

Commenting on the importance of growing apprenticeships in the life sciences sector Joanna Woolf, Cogent CEO says, “While graduates will always be an important source of talent, employers also want people who meet their unique company requirements and can learn on the job.”

At time of writing, TAS was progressing 31 higher apprenticeship starts at various different stages and across a number of learning pathways. A Cogent spokesperson told “given that some of the pathways have only been launched in the last month, [31 starts] is actually heartening.”

Ms Woolf has high ambitions for the new higher apprenticeship framework which she says is “set to challenge the way that employers recruit their science professionals.”

Remedy

With its new awards agenda Cogent hopes to put best practice in balanced skills development on a pedestal and inspire other life sciences employers to consider diversifying their recruitment and development practices.

Awards categories will recognise a sector graduate, advanced apprentice, higher apprentice and work placement of the year. There will also be awards for all-round excellence in employers. Award winners will become skills ambassadors for their industry says Cogent.

The awards scheme has been sponsored by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and the first awards ceremony will take place on May 16, 2013 in London.

To find out more about the Life Science Skills Awards go to www.cogentlifescienceawards.com

To see a video with Takeda Cambridge about its recruitment of a higher apprentice through TAS and the benefits she has brought to the business, scan the QR code below: