The Need for a Relentless Approach to Workforce Expansion in Advanced Therapies
A relentless approach to workforce expansion is needed to maintain the UK’s leading role in the global advanced therapies medicinal products (ATMPs) industry.
An important aspect of success for the Advanced Therapies Medicinal Products industry in the UK revolves around how quickly we can gather up a skilled and qualified workforce. Cell and Gene Therapy (CGT) Catapult and industry have surveyed the sector and the data (2019) highlights the need for urgency, showing that the workforce will need to have more than doubled by 2024. What action has been taken so far to attract new talent into the industry to keep up with that demand and what more should or could be done?
As post-pandemic employment patterns shift and transform, this could be the ideal time to raise awareness of the jobs available within the thriving ATMP industry
With the public now much more aware of the advances and importance of the ATMP industry and the organisations involved, are the public also aware of the opportunities and the diverse range of jobs now waiting to be filled? Jobs as diverse as practical roles such as Quality Control Technician through to office-based roles in Regulatory Affairs and Health Economics.
A range of well-funded and supported activities exist but are those options proving to be enough? Currently, there are 10 fully funded and accredited apprenticeship programmes running which are overseen by the Advanced Therapies Apprenticeship Community (ATAC). The Advanced Therapies Skills Training Network (ATSTN) is also helping to upskill those individuals already in the industry with a range of accelerated and flexible learning options provided on-line or on-site at one of three National Training Centres.
Fully-funded apprenticeships are an enticing option for people that have reassessed their career path and are now looking to move into a rewarding biomedical career
The apprenticeship route could be the very first step a person takes into professional training. Equally, apprenticeships through the ATAC programme have also been designed to create an easy route in from other industries. The lockdown working experiences in 2020 made many people reassess their career choice and many concluded that they would like to change career. This seems an opportune time to showcase the ATSTN’s ‘Career Converter’ which is currently in pilot phase but looking to identify transferrable skills from adjacent sectors and apply them to relevant roles withing the vaccine and advanced therapies sector.
To date, the Medicines Manufacturing Industry Partnership (MMIP) and Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) have worked together to provide £1.5 million to CGT Catapult to setup the ATAC programme together with industry. This has resulted in 40 companies investing in over 200 apprentices in the last 3 years. Given that forecasts suggests the sector will need at least 650 additions to the workforce each year, this represents a significant and growing success by contributing approximately 10% of the extra workforce so far.
Benefitting from new digital-based teaching methods to accelerate learning
In the same way that medical training has experienced a transformation using digital training methods such as global knowledge sharing through videoconferencing and adopting virtual and enhanced reality modules, training for a career in the ATMP industry has started to become more interactive and adopting novel ways of training to advance the speed at which people are ready to enter a cleanroom.
In 2020, the department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) provided £4.7 million of funding to optimise training through formation of the Advanced Therapies Skills Training Network so that potential ATMP employees can achieve rapid upskilling that contributes directly to the global success of vaccines and advanced therapies being produced in the UK.
As a result, coordinated by the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult, three National Training Centres across the UK have setup practical training courses specific for ATMP manufacturing. Located across Scotland, Birmingham and Darlington, these National Training Centres provide state of the art facilities and courses where attendees have access to new technology, including a virtual environment where mistakes can be made without risk. The value of this face to face training is complemented by the Online Training Platform which has been built together with industry to provide access to digital training material and currently hosts over 500 courses, is being used by over 130 organisations and has trained and upskilled close to 700 employees since its launch in 2020.
Although there is no ‘one solution fits all’ answer to addressing the skills gap within this sector, there is a significant collaborative effort across the industry to attract talent and upskill personnel into this thriving field. Being right at the start of a new chapter in medicine, our community of UK apprentices, trainees and employers is ever-growing. There is ongoing support from government and industry partners and a theme of global collaboration giving rise to tangible results.