The Life Science Sector’s approach to recruiting new talent is undergoing a period of unprecedented and exciting change.

In the not too distant past, science-based employers seeking Manufacturing or Research and Development professionals had a clear strategy: to recruit graduates directly from University.

Such graduate talent has long supported and will continue to support the industry’s ability to innovate, leading to the development and commercialisation of many successful advanced industrial products and healthcare solutions.

But there is still much more we can do and need to do as a sector – we face replacement demand and a growing number of skills shortage occupations including for example, Computational Scientists, Health Economists, Formulation Scientists, Control and Instrumentation Engineers and Process Safety Engineers.

And now, of course, innovation is the critical success factor for a sustainable science industry future. We need to equip our incoming new talent with the practical skills to be able to quickly step in to a range of science occupations. These skills are essential if we are to deliver the products and technologies that, as we say at GSK, help us to “do more, feel better and live longer”.

These drivers and the changing shape of the sector has seen us revise our approach in recent times. Over the last few years we have seen an increase in Apprenticeships across the science-based industries. And we are now increasingly using this approach at an even higher level – and that means Degree Apprenticeships.

Skills for innovation are, of course, a combination of both the academic and the practical. We want individuals with the ability to manage data and use this to make decisions. Individuals with leadership and management skills, who can solve problems, work through challenges and manage projects. Whole systems thinking, strong communication skills and maths for business skills are also in high demand. Degree Apprenticeships can deliver all of this.

Take the Laboratory Scientist Degree Apprenticeship Standard, the first one at Degree level to be developed by the employer-led Life Sciences and Industrial Science Trailblazer Group. It sees young people gaining a full University honours degree while earning a salary, working on practical tasks in a laboratory environment. Companies from Novartis to INEOS are utilising it as a way of bringing in and developing scientific excellence in skills, combining the very best of academic and vocational training.
The employer-led Science Industry Partnership, the sector’s body for skills, and of which GSK a member, is working to drive the development of Degree Apprenticeships for the sector. This means identifying the key job roles where a Degree Apprenticeship may represent the ideal solution to closing a skills gap or shortage.

The SIP considers where such a need exists, based on an Occupational Mapping exercise, 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.

GSK itself is committed to taking on more Apprentices. Our programme is a company-wide initiative that we have been growing since 2011, increasing from 10 apprentices to over 230 currently, with 99 due to start in the UK and Ireland in September. Our apprentices gain a broad range of experiences, working with industry experts in their respective fields. They often have rotation placements to broaden the experiences and skill-sets and help them to determine career choices.

GSK, and the employer members of the SIP believe that engaging our universities is critical in overcoming any lingering views that Apprenticeships are a poor relation to traditional classroom-based higher education learning.

And of course the Apprenticeship Levy is now in place, giving employers an added incentive to develop home-grown talent and indeed boost business performance, productivity and profitability.

Our members look forward to developing a strong and long term partnership with UK universities, to supporting universities to grow their offer and to continued and exciting transformation of the traditional employer/higher education relationship.

By Malcolm Skingle, Director of Academic Liaison GSK and Chair of the Science Industry Partnership.