The skills to meet global challenges and industry ambition

Dr Ronnie Palin, Life Sciences sector manager at Skills Development Scotland, explains how Scotland’s skills and learning system is responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

News of the recent breakthroughs of COVID-19 vaccines and announcements of significant growth in testing capacity are hugely encouraging and represent a striking reminder the crucial role Scotland’s life science sector is playing in combatting the pandemic.

The level of success of these will be dependent on the industry attracting new people with the right blend of skills to hit the ground running.  We will need to look beyond just the traditional pathways to the sector from higher education, to the likes of agile learning and apprenticeships.

Skills Development Scotland (SDS) is working closely with the industry to develop bespoke learning to help people transition to new roles quickly and safely.

Work already underway with Forth Valley College to develop the necessary training is a reminder that Scotland’s further education sector must play to secure our future talent. The expanded Flexible Workforce Development Fund will help businesses make use of colleges and other learning providers to upskill their workforce.

As the industry responds to meet the challenge of the pandemic, employers are creating thousands of new jobs and equipping people with a great foundation to start a new career with one of the hundreds of firms in the sector.

That’s a huge boost to securing talent in the short term, but what steps do we need to take so that businesses have access to the skilled workforce in years to come?

Demand is also driving growth amongst manufacturers in the sector, with the likes of Valneva, Symbiosis and Thermo Fisher announcing plans to recruit.  Responding to this growth, Scotland’s skills and learning system is currently developing new qualifications, in Quality, Regulatory, and Biomanufacturing.

However, we shouldn’t be shy in showcasing the range and quality of the existing training provision.  Developed last year in conjunction with businesses, the Life and Chemical Sciences Workforce Development Portal helps employers source information about the Scottish skills infrastructure. From apprenticeships through to degree-level and bespoke upskilling, it’s never been easier for employers to scan the existing training available.

Scottish Universities rank among the best in Life Sciences globally and as a result of the work by SULSA, ScotCHEM and the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre in conjunction with SDS, there is now an enhanced graduate employability programme delivering a powerhouse of highly-skilled talent  These institutions are also developing a high-quality research base which will benefit businesses and the wider industry.

The economic impacts of the pandemic are pronounced, leaving many people seeking new career paths.  Thanks to support from the National Transition Training Fund, people facing or at the risk of redundancy can benefit from short courses to help them move to careers in growing sectors such as life sciences.

Given the spotlight on our industry right now, what better time to inspire a new generation to embark in life sciences careers? The Life Sciences Modern Apprenticeship Framework and My Word of Work LIVE sessions are some of the innovative ways we can generate excitement and compete with other industries to secure the talent we will need going forward.

This year alone, over 20 apprentices have embarked on the Modern Apprenticeship in these specialist areas and are part of the Advanced Therapies Apprenticeship Community (ATAC), funded by the UK Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult.

From small and medium-sized enterprises to large employers, businesses based here and those investing in Scotland – all recognise that our people are our greatest asset.

It’s our job to support industry to attract, retain and develop the highly skilled workforce that meets their ambitions and helps address global challenges.

Dr Ronnie Palin is part of the 4pm panel on Building Skills for the Future of the Life Sciences Sector at the annual Scotsman Life Sciences conference. To book your free place to the event, please visit: