Skilled workers needed to support life sciences industry growth

As one of Wales’ fastest growing industries, the life sciences sector is currently contributing more than £2 billion to the Welsh economy every year. With such rapid growth, it’s crucial to recognise the need for skilled individuals to help support this thriving industry. Ffion Edwards, Specialist Life Sciences Recruiter at Acorn, delves deeper and discusses how we can help sustain the sector here in Wales.

The life sciences industry in Wales has grown exponentially, becoming one of Wales’ fastest growing and most innovative industries and employing more than 11,000 people across 350 companies. Momentum first started gathering force in 2010 with the appointment of the first life sciences advisory panel, which devised the strategy to drive the growth of the sector to what we see today.

Research-driven and focused on technological advancement, the industry is continuously developing, with new sub-sectors emerging every year - including biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, research and development (R&D), environmental, eHealth and regenerative medicine, with some of the anchor companies in Wales including Biomet UK Ltd, GE Healthcare, PCI Pharma Services, and Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics Ltd.

Part of the sector’s success can be attributed to the support shown by the Welsh Government. In 2013, it established the £100 million Wales Life Sciences Fund – the first fund of its kind in the world. This fund has invested so far in nine different businesses, which has resulted in inward investments and additional investments of £230 million.

In 2014, the Welsh Government made another key investment with the launch of Life Sciences Hub Wales, based in Cardiff Bay. As a central link for the sector in Wales, the Hub aims to stimulate innovation and bring businesses together, facilitating growth and collaboration.

Whilst these are positive points for the life science sector in Wales, signifying the growth and potential of the industry, we need to be keep the momentum going.

The sector both in Wales and across the UK is growing at a fast pace, with employment having risen by more than 5% in recent years – but it is still important for us to recognise the necessity for skilled individuals for the sector and start identifying ways in which we can encourage more people to join the industry to help maintain this growth.

In 2015, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) published a report that looked into the current skills gap. The report stated that there are skills gap in mathematical and computational areas, as has been widely publicised – however, the ABPI report also revealed gaps in more specific areas such as translational medicine, clinical pharmacology and data mining.

The report further stated that while there may be individuals who have some of the skills needed – the number of science graduates has increased overall in the past few years, with STEM graduates increasing by 18% – candidate quality is a bigger issue, revealing a shortage of candidates with the right experience.

There are many options that could pose as potential solutions; such as vocational training or apprenticeships, that will give the students the necessary practical experience needed to join the industry. However, for this to be successful we need to form better links between training providers, universities and employers.

It is true that the government needs to continue with their support for the life science sector, and it is positive to see that BioWales remains strong as they head into their 17th year. The annual event is one of the UK’s leading life science conferences that helps inspire innovation, partnerships and prosperity. It is vital that we keep an event like this going, encouraging attendance from relevant providers to help make those ever-important connections.

I look forward to seeing how the industry will continue to develop over the coming years – we just need to get the conversation started to make sure our workforce is in the right place, at the right time, to support those future needs.

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