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Regional growth

As the cost differential between Europe and India and China shrinks, pharmaceutical manufacturing is being driven onshore, to the UK. This is because of wages increase in India and China, exchange rates and efficiency, the lure of better regulation in Europe, the explicitly known supply chain and, sometimes, computer controlled manufacturing lines which are also more reliable.

Executives are now considering the true cost of the entire supply chain when making decisisions on where to manufacture.

Ian Shott reminded us that the Technology Strategy Board is now formally known at Innovate UK.


Apprenticeship and higher apprenticeship training is something that simply must be done, and is being done.

There are more applicants for apprenticeships and higher apprenticeships than there have been for many years. Leaders also report an increase in the hiring of these apprentices because the quality of applicants has shot up. Training apprentices takes time and money and but the effort results in loyalty and, while some apprentices do leave to other industries, some of them return.

To date companies have had to develop their own apprenticeship schemes and two companies have been investing in and developing their own for many years. Now Fujifilm has signed up to the government backed Science Industry Partnership (SIP) and launched their apprenticeshipscheme.

Chris Mullen explained the SIP to us – it is the government financed (but requiring match funding) skills development program for the entire range of science skills requirements from Apprenticeships to Master’s degrees. Once a company has negotiated a SIP contract, an analysis of the company’s needs precedes implementation of upskilling.

A number of companies in the room are comfortable with their own skills provision and, on the question of the SIP, will wait and see.


In general the pharmaceutical industry has been hiring; some companies reporting a 15% to 20% recovery in their staffing levels from the lowest, recession, numbers of 18 months ago.

At the graduate level, there is a persistent conversational thread which is best summarised by the comment that “university graduates can be bookworms who have never done anything.” This usually means that the graduate has not spent enough time on a wide enough variety of machines, but it also means that graduates need professional skills as basic as email etiquette.

High Force Research has recently hired 3 or 4 graduates and is prepared to put the time in to train them in the systems that embed their academic training into the practical aspects of running the business. Glythera is also hiring and Dave Simpson makes the point that companies hire people, not simply skills, and that they always look for enthusiasm over marks or training – above a certain point.

Added to this the seeming lack of graduates from certain disciplines who consider working within the pharmaceutical industry.

How does one switch university students on to the idea of working at pharmaceutical companies? It was suggested that that summer internships could be limited in effectiveness, and maybe retrograde, because the student’s lack of skill can mean that they get given simple (boring) work to do and this can result in the student being discouraged from working in that industry. The suggestion is that a well-structured two hour plant visit packs more punch. “Bring a busload of student to companies,” the leaders say, “just ask.”

Of course it is the case that some students don’t need initiatives and schemes; they do it by themselves already.

Get them while they are young

That Pharmaceutical Company leaders attending the dinner are interested in skills development is very clear, and they feel strongly that the enthusiasm for a career in science starts young. Over half of attendees have an involvement as STEM ambassadors at primary and high schools. Michael Whitaker, Dave Simpson and Lucille Valentine will meet up to pull together a STEM plan for schools. Let us know if you have initiatives that work well near you.

Gender balance of graduates

In Malaysia 50% of chemical engineers are women but Chemical Engineering the UK has been steady at 25% women for many years… and chemical engineering has the highest proportion of women of all the engineering disciplines. The slip in the gender imbalance begins at school and certainly by high school, in co-ed schools, there is a significant drop off of girls in STEM subjects and conversely a drop off of boys in the social sciences.

First for Pharma visits Durham in November

On 26 November 2014 at 5pm Durham University will welcome all First for Pharma members to see the new Division of Pharmacy on their Stockton-On-Tees campus. This is followed by a 5:30pm tour of their Wolfson labs and refreshments. Invitations will be issued shortly. If you are not certain that you are on our members list, email Lucille Valentine.

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