Bio-Sciences are Booming in the North: Lets Talk about It

I learnt more about the current positivity in the scientific talent landscape when I attended the Biofocus Conference hosted by Bionow, a not-for-profit organisation with the aim of supporting the growth of the biomedical and life science sectors in the North of England, earlier this month.

A skills orientated virtual discussion on how to grow and retain talent in the sectors highlighted how rapidly the North East is becoming a bio-sciences hub with a cluster of biotechnology and pharmaceutical organisations thriving and some of the positive work that is happening in the area to create, attract and retain that highly skilled talent. The discussion was led by Karen Burgess, the Enterprise Coordinator at North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

If I begin with the National Horizons Centre, Teesside University’s Centre for Excellence for the Bioindustry in Darlington. Dr Jen Vanderhoven gave a comprehensive overview of how they are ensuring a 10-year pipeline of talent, starting from aged 8 with school STEM outreach programs, school leavers can experience 2 weeks in their Life Sciences Manufacturing Academy, followed by apprenticeships, undergraduate degrees in many bioscience subjects, including, Bioprocessing, a Masters degree in subjects such as microbiology, bioinformatics or biotherapeutics and finally Continuous Professional Development (CPD) to help up-skill and cross-skill the advanced therapies, vaccines and bioprocessing workforce.

Emma Banks, Ramarketing, talked about how the Gatsby Benchmarks were used in a North East pilot engaging employers with a local school and asked the question ‘What are the barriers to getting employers to engage with education providers?’ She also hinted at how there could be a marriage of technical and creative, and students potentially no longer have to choose between the two, which may be one barrier to meeting the talent pipeline objectives. Are we not complex humans with a myriad of likes and dislikes from youth and a life set out so early as one extreme or the other may highlight what we are saying no to, just as much as, what we are saying yes to? Perhaps it doesn’t need to be.

This sentiment reminded me of a passage in Richard Dawkins’ recent book ‘Books do Furnish a Life’ (where you just know his use of the exclamation mark means more than any of my liberal scatterings!):

‘Non-scientific ways of thinking – intuitive, sensitive, imaginative (as if science were not imaginative!) – are thought by some to have a built in superiority over cold, austere, scientific ‘reason’. 

Behruz Sheikh from SRG re-iterated something we at CY Partners have found in terms of skills gaps requirements, the top gaps being cited by line managers as cognitive and interpersonal with computer, data analysis and mathematics still being a challenge. And Xander Brouwer from Newcastle University highlighted what they were doing to tackle this particular gap in data analysis, bioinformatics as well as management skills with a more demand-led offering, observing that CPD modules have shown increasing importance.

Helen Smith, the Apprenticeship and Early Talent Lead at GSK discussed some of the action the Barnard Castle site have been taking: from their leadership academy program to create a leaders pipeline to different mentoring and coaching programs. They also offer student placements, summer internships, graduate programs, all of which are of interest to our audience. GSK’s Bio-science success is not just restricted to the North with their recent announcement of 5000 new roles to be created in Stevenage, Hertfordshire.

After identifying that one of their skills gaps was a common one; IT and digital capabilities, GSK set up a reverse mentoring program where early talent members team up with a senior business lead, to share their learning. This is a concept we have imitated in a small way here at CY Partners when we discovered our summer worker Siobhan O’Brien, a medical student with a Biomedical degree from Newcastle University could offer insight into the similarities between talking to job seekers and patients. Both require the right questioning techniques to tease out the deeper meaning and challenges facing them and both require good active listening skills. Gathering information, relaying it back, summarising and sometimes managing expectations and anticipated time frames are just some of the aspects needing consideration in our communication skills.

To end, perhaps one of the reasons the North East has a thriving Bio-Science sector is due to these very communication skills coming together across different organisations. Sharing of knowledge, challenges, using imagination and innovation leads to collaborative growth and deeper partnerships.

Author Lisa Chatterjee

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