The Science Industry Partnership (SIP) is an alliance of employers who have taken ownership of the skills needed to generate innovation and growth and increase productivity in the science-based sector of the UK economy.

I’m delighted to have chaired the SIP Board since its inception in 2014. Thanks to our members, we’ve progressed the SIP from a Government seed-funded entity with an ambitious sector vision for skills, to an employer funded and led member organisation focused on building a scientific talent pipeline. Companies involved with the SIP come from a range of science driven industries including life sciences, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, coatings, polymers, medtech and biotechnology – and we are seeking more to join us on our mission to get the skills we need.

Our current Skills Strategy Research has estimated that the sector will need to fill 260,000 jobs by 2025, and it also identified that many of those entering our companies will need skills in occupational shortage areas such as informatics, synthetic biology and biotechnology, advanced manufacturing, formulation technology and materials science. Our continued ambition is therefore to ensure we are producing home grown talent to meet the sector demand.

We’ve just embarked upon a major piece of work to update this Strategy, which will focus out to 2030 – particularly looking at the skills that will be required in the space where life science and data science meet.

Employer Ownership of skills

The SIP acts as the expert skills partner to Government working to ensure there is a clear connection to what employers need in the Industrial Strategy – for which a key component is People. We have a role as a delivery partner in the Industrial Strategy via the Life Science Sector Deal – a set of joint Industry Government commitments, including those which support and deliver the skills we need for the jobs now and in the future. I represent the SIP on the Life Science Industrial Strategy Implementation Board (LSISIB) which is taking this work forward.

The Chemistry Ministerial Council has also published its Strategy. ’Sustainable Innovation for a Better World’. A key focus is vocational skills for industry; in the same way, the Chemistry Council has set about agreeing skills priorities and is working with the SIP to take this forward via a similar Sector Deal.

We recognise that such industry skills are a combination of both the academic and the practical. We increasingly want individuals who can manage and analyse data and use this to make decisions. We also want them to have key leadership and management skills, to be able to solve problems, work through challenges and manage projects. Apprenticeships and particularly Degree Apprenticeships can deliver all of this.

The SIP is working to drive the development of such specialist apprenticeships; this means identifying the job roles where an apprenticeship represents the ideal solution to closing a skills gap. The SIP facilitated employer-led Life Sciences and Industrial Science Trailblazer Group (LSIS) is driving forward the development of such Standards.

The LSIS Trailblazer group has delivered and received ministerial approval for a range of apprenticeship standards and their associated assessment plans:

Standard Education Level
Bioinformatician Scientist 7
Research Scientist 7
Regulatory Affairs Specialist 7
Health Economist (underway) 7
Quality Manager (underway) 7
Clinical Pharmacology Scientist (underway) 7
Clinical Trials Specialist 6
Science Industry Process
Plant Engineer
Laboratory Scientist 6
Technician Scientist 5
Maintenance Engineer Technician 4
Laboratory Technician 3
Science Manufacturing Technician 3
Science Industry
Maintenance Technician
Science Manufacturing
Process Operator

*Level 5, 6 and 7 are HND, Foundation Degree/Degree Level. All standards can be found here.

And, of course, the Apprenticeship Levy is now in place, giving employers an added incentive to develop homegrown talent – albeit SIP members continue to push for further flexibility around its use. We undertook an in-depth apprenticeship levy survey last year, which revealed that the majority of science employers’ levy contribution remains unrecovered: only 13% of the levy raised had been recovered for training apprentices.

However, the sector is still bucking the trend on apprenticeship uptake compared with others in the economy, albeit from a much lower starting point (see Figure 1).

The power of the sector Figure 1

Responding to industry 4.0

The power of the sector Figure 2

The SIP’s work to develop its Skills Strategy 2025 evidenced that science sector employers are concerned that in the future we will not have enough data scientists to service our respective industries. The sector recognises that it needs to respond to Industry 4.0 (the Fourth Industrial Revolution) and be more prepared for new and emerging technologies which are set to revolutionise the way we innovate and ultimately deliver new therapies and treatments.

Data science in all its forms is increasingly important to science employers. Our own members now want to take their own understanding and analysis of skills required to the next stage, and, equally importantly, develop an action plan to close what has the potential to be a serious skills gap. The Life Sciences 2030 Skills Strategy will build a clear evidence base of the status of life science skills to 2030, focusing on R&D and medicines manufacturing as well as other emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, to identify what is needed in addition to current available training provision. Underpinning this work is 3 cross cutting themes which sit across the entire life science workforce (see Figure 2).

On a final note, the “M” in STEM is not simply a functional skill for us. It increasingly underpins the individual’s ability to undertake occupations in our industries. Data handling, statistical analysis, problem solving and computational skills are critical to many well paid jobs in our sector, and our message to young people is that studying maths provides all of this and more. Indeed more Universities are also demanding A Level maths as a pre-requisite to being accepted on a scientific Degree course such as Chemistry – a sign that Higher Education is also taking this issue seriously.

Ultimately, if educational institutions, employers, and individuals aren’t keeping up with these dramatic changes, our workforce will be left behind. Our 2030 Research Strategy makes it a priority to better understand these gaps and the next task will be to deliver solutions and approaches that close them.

To find out more about joining the SIP go to

This article first appeared in the 2019 State of the Relationship report published 19 June 2019.