Chris MullenThe Science Industry Partnership (SIP) was launched by former Science Minister, David Willetts, in July this year. Almost six months on, we take a look at how the employer-led initiative is helping companies to address their skills needs. Today’s post comes from Chris Mullen, Skills Development Lead at FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies.

In October 2013, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) submitted a bid on behalf of the science industries, designed to change the future of the UK’s science economy through the formation of the Science Industry Partnership (SIP). The successful outcome sees the UK government contributing £32.6 million to the SIP, with £20 million co-investment from employers, alongside £31 million in-kind contributions. The SIP vision is to provide a means for employers to take ownership of the skills needed to generate innovation and growth in the science industries. The SIP encompasses Life Sciences – pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medical technology, consumer healthcare, and Industrial Sciences – chemicals, industrial bio-technology, polymers, advanced materials, formulations.

At FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies, we have been involved with the Gold Standard Technicians strand of Workforce Development, as well as the SMART apprenticeships. Working in a regulated environment, we need to demonstrate that our staff are trained and competent, something we do through our electronic learning system. This ends up, due to the complexity of our business, as a long list of procedures and training modules. One of the benefits of the Gold Standards is that it provides with us a framework to present our training in a more structured manner, thus making it easier to identify gaps which we can close using the co-funding from SIP.

We held a Gold Standard workshop on site, facilitated by Cogent, looking at technician level roles across manufacturing, quality control & engineering. The workshop identified gaps around underpinning knowledge of unit operations and process maintenance. For the latter, we are working with a local provider to develop a bespoke programme which will be co-funded through SIP. This has opened up an opportunity of linking across to our SIP apprenticeship programme, so that both our existing staff and our apprentices benefit.

A key outcome from the SIP will be to drive the standard of training provision upwards, giving employers confidence in accessing it. This will be partly driven by employers sharing best practice and training that will benefit the whole industry. This was highlighted during our Gold Standard mapping session. An unexpected opportunity arose during the mapping session, when we were demonstrating our R&D e-learning packages during a discussion on the laboratory analyst role. As these are generic packages, we realised that these could be used across the biotechnology industry, so we are working with Cogent to see how we would enable this. There is a great opportunity here for training to be shared and this links into the Skills for Growth strand of the Workforce Development, which is aimed at SME’s.  Companies can have confidence in accessing training through Skills for Growth knowing that it has been quality assured through an independent process overseen by the SIP Quality Group.

One of the key aims of SIP now is to encourage sharing of best practice in skills. It’s just a question of picking up the phone or sending an email. For example, we are looking to recruit a young person into our Quality Assurance function and wondered whether this could be done as an apprenticeship. A quick look ourselves drew a blank, however after asking our SIP account manager, they came back with an apprenticeship framework which another SIP employer was using their Quality Assurance apprentices. This was as good as a stamp of approval, so we are continuing to progress this along with other opportunities.

It’s only 4 months into the SIP yet it is already realising opportunities for us in upskilling our staff and attracting young people into biotechnology.

To find out how you can benefit from this initiative and to get involved, email Elizabeth Curran at Cogent, elizabeth.curran@cogent-ssc.com.

Read previous BIA guest blogs on the SIP: Equipping the science industry workforce with skills for sustainability by Cogent; and Building an innovation pipeline through skills by Malcolm Skingle.