Future Skills Needs of the Biopharma Industry in Ireland

Reposted from: A Report of the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs


Ireland is winning significant investments in Bipoharma

According to Una Halligan, Chairperson, Expert Group on Future Skills Needs, the Biopharma industry is one of the fastest growing sectors in Ireland. In 2015, the sector employed 28,200 people in Ireland and accounted for over €30bn in exports. The sector also creates significant secondary employment in construction and other services while investment in new plant construction is under way. Ireland is winning significant investments in Bipoharma, with capital projects amounting to over €4bn in the pipeline over the coming years.In a study on Future Skills Needs of the Biopharma Industry in Ireland (August 2016), key findings indicated that availability of skills and talent isconsidered by the industry as a fundamental prerequisite for future competitiveness, investment and employment. The need for a collaborative approach to ensure the adequacy of the supply of Biopharma skills and talent has been reportedly raised by the industry in discussions with the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and State agencies.

The research findings highlighted major factors that impact upon performance of the Biopharma industry in Ireland with particular emphasis on skills needs. some of the findings indicated the significant role of the sector in the creation of secondary employment, the importance of availability of skilled workers in the industry and how this drives the growth of the Biopharma sector.

It also indicated some challenges that are encountered in talent sourcing and key skills requirements in the industry by highlighting the breakdown of graduate skills in 2014 with a view to address areas that may need future attention with particular emphasis on training and the need for collaboration by all stakehoilders. Significantly, it recommended that companies need to do more in creating public awareness on career opportunities and increase their scale of graduate entry programmes.

Based on findings in this research, there are a several large sized companies within the industry with around 35 companies comprising 85% of employment. TIt reported that the Biopharma industry exported products to the value of €30.2bn in 2015 and contributed €1.7bn in payroll expenditure to the economy. It creates significant secondary employment in construction and other services while the investment in new plant construction is under way. The industry is regionally based with main operations located in the South-West, Dublin, Mid-East, and West regions. Global and domestic drivers of growth are impacting on Biopharma skills demand. These includes the general challenge of achieving innovation and operational excellence, maintaining global standards of product and process compliance, and delivering on the specific skills required for both Pharma and Biologics manufacturing. Other countries are undertaking initiatives to ensure a supply of talent for the Biopharma industry, in particular for Biologics manufacturing. Features include the close engagement and collaboration of companies and academics in the design and delivery of education and training programmes.

The Biopharma Industry in Ireland has several key strengths including an international reputation based on manufacturing excellence. It has a strong representative body, BioPharmaChem Ireland, which is proactively looking at its skill needs through its Biopharma Skills Forum (which is taking into account the recommendations made in this report). The Industry is making active use of Springboard+ and the Skillnets training programmes, supported respectively by the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Social Protection, to address its skills needs. The Government has also invested in NIBRT1, which has become an internationally renowned centre for Biologics process research and training.

Telent Sourcing Challenges and Key Skills Requirements

The Biopharma industry is highly regulated with stringent clean and safe operational requirements. A particular difficulty cited is the sourcing of experienced staff especially for Process Engineering and for Quality Assurance/Validation roles. Over the next five years, it is anticipated that the industry will create a diverse range of roles requiring specific science, engineering, technology, and business skills across NFQ levels 6-9. “Soft” skills including communications, teamworking, problem solving, and influencing skills are essential for all roles. All staff must have knowledge of contamination, sterile processing and cleanroom operations. There is a demand for staff with awareness across a range of related disciplines who understand the manufacturing process and the drug and medicines life cycle. Data analytics is a key emerging skills requirement. Findings from research work undertaken with stakeholders highlights the need for an improved alignment of programme provision. More regular reviews of biopharma education and training programmes are required to ensure that they remain market-informed. Companies also need to engage in more forward planning of their skills needs. Companies cite a lack of “soft skills” among graduates, including teamworking, communications, and problem solving skills. Many students on Biopharma related programmes do not receive structured work place training. Academia also requires greater access to the facilities and funding resources to provide experiential learning for students.

 The research cited that an estimated 810 graduates of various NFQ levels entered employment in the Biopharma Industry in 2014. Around 50% of these graduates were from science and maths disciplines, with another 24% from engineering, 12% from health and welfare, and 7% from business disciplines, while 9% came from a combination of different discipline areas. Given recent investment plans, according to this study, it is anticipated that an additional 5,000 staff will be employed in Biologics manufacturing over the next five years in Ireland, a 75% increase on the current employment level. Of this 5,000 employment increase, it is estimated that around 1,000 will be for roles such as facility maintenance, supply chain/logistics, human resources, finance, legal and warehousing. These are roles found in other sectors, albeit with a need for Biopharma domain knowledge. The remaining 4,000 roles will require more specific Biopharma science, technology and engineering skillsets. Pharmaceutical employment (manufacturing and service activities) is anticipated to remain stable at around 21,500, although there will be continuing change in the nature of these activities which will have implications for skill demand. Between anticipated expansion and the replacement employment demand arising within the Biopharma industry, there will be 8,400 potential job openings in the period up to 2020. It is considered that this level of job openings can be met through a combination of increased graduate recruitment by industry from the required range of science, technology, engineering and business disciplines and the upskilling of job seekers with relevant qualifications on Springboard+/Skillnets training programmes. The industry can also continue to draw upon a flow of international talent,including expatriates, to add necessary experience and diversity of skillsets. The pace of change in Biopharma markets, technology and processes means that the investment by companies in the continuing professional development of their workforce is essential. This increased inflow of graduates is considered feasible given the industry’s relative share of recruitment from the main science, technology, engineering and business disciplines that it is drawing upon, albeit with a need for an improved alignment of this provision (especially for Biologics) and for structured work experience placements to become an integral part of all programme provision. Companies also need to increase public awareness of the range of career opportunities available and to increase the scale of their graduate entry recruitment programmes.


For more information on this Research please click on the link:http://www.skillsireland.ie/Publications/2016/Biopharma-Skills-Report-FINAL-WEB-VERSION.pdf

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