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Degree apprenticeships: a first class route to building a talent pipeline

Degree apprenticeships: a first class route to building a talent pipeline

Alex Felthouse, Managing Director of Eisai Manufacturing Ltd .and Science Industry Partnership Board Member

Research1 undertaken in support of the Science Industry Partnership (SIP) 2025 Skills Strategy identified that the Medicines Manufacturing Sector, a strategic UK industry in which Eisai is a key player, needs to recruit around 1000 people a year, with a significant focus on highly specialist scientific roles.

And indeed the wider STEM using sector will need to fill 250,000 jobs by 2025. This forecast includes up to 142,000 professional graduate level jobs and up to 73,000 technical level entry roles.

The SIP is now focussed on a skills demand and workforce planning Strategy that will take us through to 2030 – updating its research, while at the same time developing an action plan for skills, based on a gap analysis of key skills and education provision required to future proof the life science sector.

In essence the skilled people required by the sector will need to come directly from education or from other related sectors. And structured, high quality training will be essential in achieving this goal. The onus is on the life sciences industry to attract people into the sector, recognising that the workforce is far more mobile than in previous years, and only by working together will we achieve this goal.

With the advent of high quality L2 to L4 apprentice training in the life science sector, from research through to manufacturing, there needs to be a continuum of training to support these early entrants into industry, thus enabling them to continue their professional development and career progression.

Degree Apprenticeships (L5- L8) provide the solution to this continuum and are set to revolutionise learning for our life sciences sector, offering a robust education pathway through to a Masters-level qualification.

These higher level apprenticeships offer an employer-designed, structured learning programme for new entrants and existing employees. They reflect the rapidly advancing knowledge base and the increasing role of digital our sector needs to embrace in order to compete internationally. And of course they also support the sector to progress, develop and deliver solutions to our complex healthcare needs.

A growing number of science industry employers are now looking at how they might use their Apprenticeship Levy to fund such high quality programmes, which have been designed to not only equip the learner with key technical and scientific skills, but also the knowledge and behaviours required to work in both small and large life science organisations.

Indeed, against a backdrop of apprenticeship uptake decline, starts in science occupations are rising, bucking the national trend – with the most recent data at 3,650 (covering Oct ‘17 to Sep ’18). This is the highest this has been since the SIP has started reporting data and the 4th consecutive 4-quarter increase (see below).

There are a range of advantages offered by Degree Apprenticeship routes, and ensuring a successful programme means thinking about skills requirements from the outset.

Take, for example, the Laboratory Scientist Degree Apprenticeship Standard, the first one at Degree level to be developed by the SIP facilitated employer-led Life Sciences and Industrial Science (LSIS) Trailblazer Group. The latest data from the Department of Education (DfE) shows that there were 70 starts on this Standard in the first quarter of the 2018/19 academic year (Aug-Oct ’18), which is a promising take-up by the sector.

It means that young people embarking on a career in our sector can achieve a full University honours degree while earning a salary, working on practical tasks in a laboratory environment. Science-using companies are utilising it as a way of developing scientific talent; undertaking this Standard can lead to a job in a range of areas and roles including Analytical Chemist, Research & Development Scientist, Molecular Biologist, Formulation Scientist, Medicinal Chemist and Process Scientist.

This Apprenticeship Standard is recognised by the Science Council at Registered Scientist (RSci) level and its duration is typically 60 months.

Another, more recently launched Apprenticeship Standard is Bioinformatics Scientist (Masters Degree Level) which will meet a growing need. Bioinformaticians are scientists who use computer and data mining techniques which are applied to a range of problems in the life sciences, for example, in pharmaceutical companies in the process of drug discovery and development. Roles require scientists who understand life sciences, and who can work computationally with diverse and large volumes of data derived from different life science activities.

When developing a new Standard, the employer-led Life Science and Industrial Science (LSIS) Trailblazer considers where such a need exists in consultation with industry, it then looks to support the development of an Apprenticeship Standard for the occupation.

With this in place it can work with Universities to ensure a fit-for-purpose offer in any new area. An extra part of this is then to work with the professional bodies who accredit degree programmes, to adapt such accreditations to Degree-level Apprenticeships so that apprentices and employers have equivalent measures of quality assurance and routes towards recognised professional registration.

For Life Sciences organisations the appeal is the practical, work-based learning that takes place during the programme. Learners can apply both their knowledge and workplace experiences as part of their learning, giving them the opportunity to develop solutions to the challenges they – and their employer – are facing.

A Degree Level Apprenticeship requires the apprentice to complete a work-based project and generate a “synoptic report”. This allows the apprentice to demonstrate their project management skills whilst critically evaluating their outcomes in relation to organisational needs. This supervised project essentially looks at a particular organisational challenge, chosen together with the employer. This gives the learner a deep understanding of the company and in turn provides the company with a fresh perspective.

Life Science employers themselves are key to the success of such programmes, as apprentices need full and ongoing support during their study and help in applying new skills and knowledge in the work setting. It is certainly worth putting the time in to communicate the benefits of this route internally and explain the fantastic returns which can accrue from developing talent this way.

Provision

The Science Industry Partnership recognises that finding a provider that has the right curriculum and approach and is willing to develop a deep relationship with employers, and understanding of their scientific and technical roles, is critical to the success of a Degree Apprenticeship programme.

The big question right now is do we have the quality of national provision the sector requires to deliver the education we need?

The work of the 2030 Skills strategy will look to assess this question by undertaking a review of vocational skills training delivery, including gap analysis of the training provision base. Producing an interactive geographical heat map of current provision and identifying where provision shortages exist.

The UK Life Sciences sector continues to make advances in science and technology which improve all our lives, making new discoveries that deliver treatments once unimaginable. It has an ongoing need to recruit, train and develop employees and its demand for higher-level skills will only continue to intensify.

This important 2030 Strategy will ensure we focus our efforts on emerging and growing skills shortages, providing us with clear priority areas that we can target with both action and solutions. It will also support us to develop a Post-Brexit skills policy to identify provision gaps that are resulting in the need to look outside of the UK for the science skills essential for growth.

This approach needs to be responsive and based on employer demand, rather than the current and expedient shortage arrangements. Industry needs access to essential skills not currently available in the UK; maintaining expertise and scientific knowledge in innovation and research will be key in the future.

We look forward to working with all our partners on this important work, including the Medicines Manufacturing Industry Partnership (MMIP), Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), BioIndustry Association (BIA), and of course the Government Office for Life Sciences (OLS) which is leading on the Government’s Industrial Strategy for Life Sciences, for which this Strategy will deliver the key People strand of the joint industry Plan to ensure our sector is set for success.

The SIP is an established, influential Employer Partnership for the science industries, which takes direct responsibility for sectoral ambition on skills. Alex Felthouse, SIP Board member, is leading on the 2030 Strategy development.

1 https://www.scienceindustrypartnership.com/skills-issues/skills-strategy/

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