Science Industry Partnership


Closing the science industry skills gap

Science is a key driver of the economy – our productivity increasingly relies upon both technological advances and in particular the high level vocational and applied science skills that allow the commercialisation of ideas.

Scientific progress across biotechnology, life sciences and chemicals is a mainstay of British science. In order to maintain its global position the UK needs to continue to develop world-class scientists and equip them with the practical skills to ensure such progress can have as wide an application as possible – from drug discovery to the development of advanced materials. These skilled people are doing scientifically complex work in laboratories, on industrial plants and in advanced manufacturing environments. In the light of Brexit, homegrowing these skills has never been more important.

A comprehensive evidence base of skills needs and challenges across the Science Industry was collated to underpin the SIP Skills Strategy 2025

This work was led by the SIP Futures Working Group, a subset of SIP employers, and has been used to shape the SIP Action Plan.  The research identifies the following occupations where appropriately skilled people are in critically short supply:

Need to increase apprenticeships

There are a number of particular challenges to overcome in increasing the supply of Apprentices in the life sciences industry. They are:

  • Low numbers of life sciences companies taking on Apprentices.
  • The life sciences industry has traditionally recruited graduates for technician level jobs.
  • The jobs are high level, often science based and can be quite specialist.

As the need to train to secure the future of the technician workforce has become more widely recognised across the science industries and with the advent of employer ownership of skills, science apprenticeship numbers have begun to rise. But they need to be significantly increased to meet the future demand for technical staff in the sector.

SIP Skills Strategy

Highest Level of Qualification by Industry

Employers often cite issues in finding providers to partner with in delivering apprenticeships, particularly in relation to emerging industries and technologies that will drive future growth. As numbers of skilled people required are often small in these areas there is a lack of critical mass required by Further Education (FE) providers to make delivering apprenticeships viable. Equally prospective learner awareness and confidence in apprenticeships as a progression route is currently relatively low.

The solution to this problem is multifaceted, and encompasses:

  • Designing apprenticeship frameworks that are broad, to train staff up for a profession that spans a range of industries, thereby creating the critical mass required to make delivery a viable option for providers
  • Organising collaboration between providers of the main framework, with specialist providers able to deliver any industry tailored elements of an apprenticeship training programme
  • Where cohorts are small, designing apprenticeships to recruit nationally by locating training in a central point, close to a relevant cluster and providing accommodation for trainees
  • Considering the modes of delivery to suit a national cohort (including distance learning and block release)

In order to increase the numbers of science apprentices, there must be sufficient available FE provision. At present there are 22 FE institutions / private training providers delivering Science apprenticeships, compared to 299 delivering Engineering and Manufacturing related apprenticeships. Limitations in available and accessible provision limit the ability of employers to grow the number of apprentices they train. Based on SFA 2013/14 data there are 22 providers delivering to the following science specific apprenticeships:

  • Laboratory and Science Technicians
  • Pharmacy Technicians
  • Laboratory Technicians

We know that we face a significant recruitment and skills challenge across the life sciences industries;  it is projected that in total up to 126,000 new staff will be needed between now and 2025 including 32,000 needed in pharmaceuticals and 92,400 across Medical Technologies and the evolving Biomedical Technologies sectors.

Advanced Therapies Manufacturing Action Plan - March 2016

The growth of the advanced therapies sector in the UK will critically rely on a commensurate growth in the available talent pool.  A conservative estimate is that 400-600 additional skilled staff will be required over the next two years. Currently many advanced therapies are in an experimental phase and manufacturing processes are largely under-developed and small-scale.

As the industry matures and begins to commercialise products, the highest growth in skills and knowledge demand will not be in this highly expert group but increasingly  in competent technicians or operators capable of reliably running routine manufacturing operations. In addition, specialised roles such as qualified person and regulatory professionals will grow.’

Bridging the skills gap in the biopharmaceutical industry, ABPI November 2015

In terms of apprenticeships, both level 2 and level 3 science, engineering and technology (SET) apprenticeships have increased since the early 2000s, though the increase has been less dramatic than in non-SET areas.

‘Only a small number of people started a SET-related Level 4 or above apprenticeship in 2012-13. ‘

Gatsby Foundation

Research by The Gatsby Foundation has found that ‘currently there are over 1.5 million technicians employed across the entire UK workforce and 50,000 of them are retiring each year.  Gatsby forecasts show that there will be a requirement for as many as 700,000 STEM technicians across the UK workforce by 2020. It should also be noted that there is evidence to show that many technical level jobs are currently filled by graduates. ‘