Training to Get Future Fit.

Rob Storey, Business Development Manager within the School of Applied Science & Technology at Newcastle College, on the college’s perspective of the challenges and opportunities for the North East’s pharmaceutical sector.

Q. Where do you see the pharma sector going in the next five to ten years?
A. There’s a clear indication of change in all major facets of the industry, from R&D through to manufacturing. College research and employer feedback indicates a move towards increased diversification and more reliance upon contract/supply chain manufacturing, and we envisage a rise in Bio pharma activities which, in turn, will impact on more traditional chemical based large pharma concentrated activities.

Further developments in manufacturing processes should stimulate workforce development, with more reliance placed on home grown skills. There’s a need for further investment in innovative technology to compete with India’s rising pharma industry, and therefore training of staff to deliver these innovations safely.

Q. How do you feel the public sector will be able to support the pharma companies over this time period?
A. From a Newcastle College perspective we’ve made enormous changes in the way we operate to enable us to be flexible and employer responsive. Through working with employers we’re able to provide a pool of people of various ages and stages of qualification achievement to consider employing as capable technicians at all levels. We’re all aware of how much public sector funding is being cut, and this will affect the resources available in support of employer focused activities. However, active promotion of pharma within the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) agenda is helping change the public perception of ‘large pharma activities’ manufacturing and the industry in general, and Newcastle College will continue to make a major contribution in this area.

Q. What do you see as being the threats and opportunities for the pharma sector in the future?
A. Opportunities include:-

  • Increased flexibility of employees through targeted technician-level training
  • More use of realistic working environments in training to meet employers’ needs
  • A focused employer responsive approach and meaningful employer and academic partnershipsto meet the challenges faced
  • Effective employer and academic collaboration to consider how to take advantage of alternative funding opportunities to support skills development
  • New technologies and drug development.
  • Perceived threats include:
  • Lack of skills at all levels
  • An ageing population
  • Ability to meet changing needs of the large pharma industry
  • Developing countries producing the same quality for less.

Q. In a period of reduced direct financial support/grants for business, how else are you or the public sector able offer value to companies?
A. We need to ensure an integrated employer and academia approach to consider how to make more effective use of bespoke training, different delivery models and specialisation. For example, Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) activities and clean room opportunities that the college has invested heavily in. Effective collaboration with our industry partners is already seeing companies reduce recruitment and training costs by helping shape provision towards their needs and by tapping into the pool of talent available to them.

More consideration could be given to individual focused training involving industry experts. More flexible approaches to meetinh employers’ needs are also crucial, for example, a focus on workplace training via NVQs, trouble-shooting to help with production problems, and blended learning utilised to minimise time away from the workplace, where possible.

Q. Does the north east of England differ from other regions in the UK in terms of skills needs and skills development needs/opportunities?
A. Skills needs and skills development opportunities are shaped by the solid regional pharma industry based here. It requires effective and relevant training to support, sustain and underpin local employers’ needs. Our research shows a rapidly ageing technician workforce profile, and many employers believing fewer young people are leaving school with the required qualifications or employability skills they value. Changing the mindset of the employable population about joining the sector, or retraining within it, is ongoing and vital to sustaining growth and future prosperity.

Q. Do you feel companies appreciate the full value of training?
A. Definitely. However, funding complexities and regularity changes can cause anxiety and frustration. At the college we’ve found success is achieved when effective partnering takes place so we’re aware of employers’ needs and can ensure they influence the type of qualifications, training and delivery mode developed. Our challenge is to ensure employers are fully aware of the range of training we can deliver and the range of methods and flexibility on offer.

Q. How important is public sector financial support availability on training uptake, and are the commercial benefits fully appreciated by companies?
A. Public sector financial support is very important to employers, but there’s a tremendous amount of non-funded activity taking place in the pharma sector because many companies appreciate the commercial benefits derived from training and staff development. The college is constantly looking to innovate to assist employers as it’s important that flexibility in training can be provided at a cheaper cost and focused very much on business needs.

Q. How big a role do companies have in encouraging students to take up courses the sector needs? Are they currently meeting this need? If they don’t meet it well, what needs doing to get them to step up to the mark?
A. There’s a massive role for companies and partners to explain that the pharma sector offers real jobs with real application of STEM. The sector and all its stakeholders must collaborate effectively to sell the opportunities to the best students to ensure the ‘cream of the crop’ is attracted to, and retained within, the pharma community.

Companies are being affected by the recession and understandably want to maximise efficiency and avoid wasteful training. But we need to ensure the old fashioned idea that a full day release approach to training doesn’t suit everyone, and we can make training more flexible, fitting around employers’ needs.

Rob Storey has responsibility for the STEM developments within the School of Applied Science & Technology at Newcastle College, a division of NCG. The college has excellent Further Education and Higher Education teaching staff with relevant industry experience, a range of standard qualifications, bespoke packages and industry specification equipment for use within the pharmaceutical industry. These support the college/employer focused partnership activities which underpin and drive current and future curriculum and services.


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