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Scottish Science Graduates Crucial to Biotech Industry Skills Management

2 Sep 2013

Contributing over £800m to the Scottish economy, employing over 27,000 people in 592 companies and institutions (source BIA Scotland), the life sciences and biotechnology community is one of Scotland's cornerstone industries.  With all the evidence pointing towards further growth in this sector, with both large blue chip businesses and indigenous SMEs expanding, a critical issue is the availability of well qualified graduates and skilled employees to fill all job opportunities.

Last month, in association with the BioIndustry Association Scotland (BIA), Eden Scott hosted a seminar for senior HR professionals from a host of life sciences and biotechnology clients to share their experiences around skills and recruitment.  A subsequent survey of delegates who attended the seminar threw up some interesting results.  When asked to rank the importance from 1-5 (with 1 being least important and 5 most important) of several sources in helping bridge skills gaps in their own organisation, the vast majority of respondents indicated that Scottish life sciences graduates and internal training and succession planning are the top two sources.

When then asked to look at the industry from a macro level, the respondents indicated that the three most important factors to allow the Scottish life sciences community as a whole to bridge skills gaps and attract the right people were:

  1. Closer synergy between university courses and professional life;
  2. Sponsored student work placements as part of an undergraduate's tertiary education; and
  3. Larger remuneration budgets to compete with other established sectors like oil and gas, mainstream engineering and the financial services community.

These findings are not a great surprise to Eden Scott.  Unlike many other industry sectors, and due to the highly technical and scientific nature of many roles, it is hard for companies in the life sciences and biotechnology sector to easily transfer people from other industries like mainstream engineering.  Therefore, a large majority of companies rely on Scottish and UK graduates to take entry roles, and promote from within to fill more senior roles.  However, there is a clear message from the private sector to universities and colleges to tailor degree courses so that skills gained become more transferable and graduates are better prepared for the world of work.  In Eden Scott's experience, sponsored student work placements do better equip graduates for working life.

Some issues discussed at the event itself included how to attract talent from UK and EU life sciences and biotechnology clusters.  It is clear from these discussions that more debate is required, and that the life sciences HR community as a whole in Scotland would like to work closer together in the future.  With a large number of companies competing for similar talent, rewards and remuneration are key to attracting top talent.  It was interesting to learn how creative some of the companies, for example Lux Biotechnology who award training grants to staff for courses not necessarily linked to their jobs, are compared with more established blue chips like Quintiles and Aptuit, who have well defined and established remuneration and benefits packages.  At the very least it is good that this community is discussing pertinent skills and recruitment issues, and that job opportunities remain high.

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