Report Finds Skills Gap in UK Biopharmaceutical Industry

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An ABPI report found a lack of quality candidates for high-skilled roles in areas such as bioinformatics, translational medicine, clinical pharmacology, and pathology.

A report from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) has found that pharmaceutical companies are struggling to recruit for high-skilled roles in the UK due to low numbers of good quality candidates, ABPI said in a Nov. 11, 2015 press release. The report, “Bridging the Skills Gap in the Biopharmaceutical Industry,” looks at the skills needed now and in the near future for the biopharmaceutical industry to thrive in the UK. Based on research from 93 industry leaders from 59 organizations, the report reveals that the most concerning skills gaps are in the interdisciplinary areas involving mathematics and biology, which are essential for the development of the personalized medicines of the future.

​Nine out of ten respondents cited concerns about quality and quantity of candidates for vacancies in areas including bioinformatics, health informatics, statistics, and data mining, where innovation and technology is advancing so quickly that training programs struggle to keep up. Nine out of ten respondents also cited poor communications and team-working skills in new recruits as a particular area of concern.

The report also highlights long-standing issues in the number and quality of applicants in areas such as translational medicine, clinical pharmacology, and veterinary and toxicological pathology, which were highlighted in the ABPI’s previous skills report of 2008.  However, while action has been taken to address these issues, a lack of ongoing funding-and instances where short-term initiatives to improve candidate quality came to end-means these skills gaps are now re-emerging as areas of concern.

“It is essential that the sector continues to have access to a highly skilled R&D, manufacturing, and technical workforce in order to achieve its potential, maintain the UK’s position at the forefront of life sciences, and help to meet the challenge of addressing the productivity gap,” said Life Sciences Minister, George Freeman MP, in the press release.

The report authors say a multi-sector approach, as well as co-investment from the industry and government, is required in order to tackle what is a complex set of issues. This includes a focus on the education pathway, from the school curriculum to post-graduate studies, and more high-quality apprenticeships. ABPI also noted its concern that the UK government had reneged on its decision to support the Science Industry Partnership (SIP), which ABPI said has made a significant impact on the skills shortage facing the sector and is well-placed to lead on tackling some of the issues raised in this report.


“Securing the appropriate skills and roles across manufacturing, clinical, and research and development within life sciences has been a significantly growing concern for our sector in the UK, and this report provides the clear evidence of the complexities of the challenge ahead,” said Malcolm Skingle, chair of the ABPI Academic Liaison Expert Network, in the press release.  “We absolutely need to work with Government and health and education policy makers to understand how best to address these gaps and challenges, in order to secure the UK’s position in life sciences and ensure it remains able to compete globally for talent and investment.  Only through collaboration and co-investment between all relevant organizations can we ensure that the UK sustains and grows a highly skilled workforce for our sector in the future.”

“Young people need advice and guidance to understand the opportunities that exist in the industry and to be appropriately prepared, and this is currently lacking,” added Sarah Jones, ABPI’s Head of Education and Exams and report author. “There needs to be a consistent UK-wide approach to help school and universities to address this and to make sure that students understand the skills required and the training on offer. We also need much greater awareness the role of apprenticeships, as these can often offer the best route into a long-term, highly skilled career.”

Source: ABPI