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Putting skills development at the heart of Life and Chemical Sciences

Ronnie Palin – Key Sector Manager – Life and Chemical Sciences, Skills Development Scotland

There are a series of reasons why skills are considered a key issue for companies in Scotland’s Life Sciences and Chemical Sciences sectors.

Remaining competitive and productive in these sectors requires a highly skilled workforce that can achieve innovation whilst maintaining operational excellence.

When considered against the backdrop of issues ranging from Brexit to the increasing rate of technological change, it becomes clear why employers regard skills as a priority.

It was in April 2014 that Skills Development Scotland (SDS) first launched a Skills Investment Plan for Scotland’s Life Sciences Sector. A plan for the Chemical Sciences Sector followed six months later.

Since then, a great deal has been achieved across the themes which were common to both plans – attracting more talent to the sectors, broadening and securing the talent pool, and ensuring skills and training provision meets employer demand.

To take this work forward, Chemical Sciences Scotland and Life Sciences Scotland last year agreed to merge their Skills Working Groups and to develop a combined Skills Investment Plan recognising many of their shared interests, to be published next month.

The shifting regulatory environment, the growth in importance of data and digital health, plus the emergence of new trends such as personalised medicine and the circular economy, has heightened the need for skills specific areas such as engineering and digital.

At the same time, a number of industrial strategies relevant to both sectors identify investment in STEM skills and education in technology as being crucial to its long-term health.

SDS, together with a range of partners, is working to address these short-term and long-term issues, with an action plan that identifies four priority themes:

  • addressing specific skills shortages;
  • ensuring national coverage of skills and training provision;
  • increasing exposure to, and understanding of, the industry; and
  • enhancing practical experience.

Specific actions emerging from these themes include updating the relevant SVQs, with two new qualifications in Technical, Formulation processing at SCQF levels 5 and 6, the development of the Graduate Apprenticeship offering, including one in Chemical and Process Engineering, plus enhanced levels of industry engagement.

The Skills Investment Plan is facilitated by SDS but led by industry itself, and the extent to which it fulfils its key aims and addresses the needs of the sector will depend on the engagement of employers.

The more companies play a part in it, from engaging with education and promoting the sector to embedding work-based learning in their business, the greater the impact it will have and the more the sector will benefit.

For this reason, I’m looking forward to Scotland’s Life Sciences Dinner and Annual Awards as the Skills Investment Plan will feature, giving those attending a chance to learn more about how they can get involved.

In the meantime, should you wish to find out more, please contact me at ronnie.palin@sds.co.uk

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