Following the launch last week of the £52 million Science Industry Partnership (SIP) for employer-led skills training, Judith Holcroft at Cogent, the skills body which is supporting the SIP roll-out, outlines some of the opportunities on offer to bioscience companies through the employer-driven SIP.
Skills gaps and skills shortages across the science-using sector have been much reported. Criticism is directed at a range of bodies from schools through to academic institutions – with a particular focus on a lack of practical skills for the workplace. Employers too have sometimes borne the brunt of such criticism – with some commentators suggesting that entry-level training on the job has gone out of fashion over the last few decades.
Many life science companies of course do provide excellent practical on the job training – but have been frustrated by the lack of fit-for-purpose training on offer. This is a critical area for SMEs – who don’t always have large training budgets or significant HR resources. Since 80% of innovation in the field of life sciences originates in small companies – much of which is then taken up by larger companies – having a robust talent pipeline is key.
Now, a project called the Science Industry Partnership (SIP) has been established by a leading group of employers. It is being led by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), with the support of the skills body for the science industry sector, Cogent SSC. The employer-led partnership is putting forward the views of the science companies of all sizes around both how they would like their future recruits to be trained, and about the development of fit-for-purpose training for the current workforce.
The government has made it clear that employers need to be much more involved in the skills landscape, and is supporting the SIP with a £32.6 million grant. This will be matched by employer contributions to the tune of £20 million as well as in-kind contributions of £31 million.
Critically the SIP doesn’t just include large companies, but incorporates SMEs, many of which have not always felt they have had an input into the national training agenda. The result is that both Further Education (FE) and Higher Education (HE) is getting robust feedback on the skills that industry requires. It’s not just employers who will benefit from the SIP with better trained recruits – incoming talent such as graduates should also find it easier to both find jobs and be equipped to undertake them.
SIP programmes include Skills for Growth, which offers government co-investment to upskill employees across small businesses. This means that companies will receive a voucher for up to 50% of training costs, as well as being able to benchmark their performance online and access endorsed training solutions.
The SIP also offers HE programmes – including Industry Degrees, which provide employers with a vocational scheme that includes two paid summer placements and Modular Masters, a flexible programme of Master’s level training in formulation.
Of course it’s not essential that all roles are filled by graduates and the SIP acknowledges the advantages of taking on both Advanced and Higher Apprentices. SIP SMART Apprentices are based on tailored Apprenticeship Training Plans (ATPs) which are designed around the actual job – and can include in-house training. In the case of the graduate scheme and the apprenticeship programme, Cogent can also employ the individual and take care of HR requirements. Other programmes within the SIP include traineeships – a six month training programme for 16-18 year olds – and a careers strand which will ensure closer links with schools and colleges.
David Willetts, the Minister of State for Universities and Science, attended the launch of the SIP and stressed its importance, stating that higher skills are the key driver of success in the science industry sector. This was aptly summed up by Malcolm Skingle, GSK Director and Chair of the SIP, who noted that “ultimately the SIP will help to preserve the UK’s reputation as a world leader in an extremely competitive area.”