If the UK’s rapidly-growing life sciences sector is going to deliver on its potential, then it needs to take fast and effective steps to tackle the skills shortage that is holding it back.
Even before the pandemic, talent shortages were in evidence, but since the rapid roll-out of the Covid vaccines and the increased investments these and other significant results have generated, the position has reached critical levels.
Start-ups are in a better position than ever to move at speed from clinical trials to manufacturing, delivering crucial health treatments and financial returns. However, many find themselves stuck at the starting line unable to recruit the talent they need to make significant progress, putting greater pressure on the founders.
Established companies are also being constrained by recruitment difficulties. There are shortages across the board, but it is in data, information and digital technology where the problem has reached critical levels. Life sciences companies are finding themselves in competition with the tech giants and other sectors who are all chasing the same talent.
As science parks we cannot simply sit on the sidelines and watch this happen. We have a vital role to play in showcasing life sciences as an exciting and rewarding option for those with transferable skills. And we need to start early, attracting more young people to take the STEM subjects.
At Discovery Park in Sandwich we have established a Skills Hub. It brings together the expertise of Canterbury Christ Church University, EKC Group, Pfizer, The Stem Hub and University of Kent, to help tenants find and retain new talent and provide access to the further training needed to grow their businesses.
We work with schools, educating pupils and their parents about the exciting opportunities that exist and Discovery Park has established a Skills Steering Group with Pfizer, Canterbury Christ Church University, the University of Kent, and EKC Group. It will help create more internships, apprenticeships and job opportunities with our growing portfolio of tenants.
At Discovery Park we have tenants doing remarkable work in life sciences, including Neurosciences, industrial biotech, alternative fuels and agritech. These are cutting-edge companies producing exciting results that lead to products. We need to get better at articulating what working for businesses like these actually involves, and the opportunities they can provide for career advancement.
Meanwhile there is evidence that more of our tenants are looking for apprenticeships so that they can pass on their knowledge and experience to the next generation. As it stands, many of our engineers and facility managers are in their 50s, they could well be leaving the industry within the next decade, and we need to ensure the pipeline of talent can provide skilled people to take over their positions.
Discovery Park isn’t unique in this, it is the same picture at science parks across the country, and it will only improve if we all act quickly and effectively to communicate more widely about the career opportunities that exist.
We need to persuade school leavers (STEM and STEAM), graduates and sector-switchers that life sciences can provide them with the challenges and rewards that they need to build exciting careers in a fast-moving sector where the outcomes have the potential to change health outcomes for millions of people.
Martino Picardo, Chairman, Discovery Park