Filling UK bioprocessing roles a ‘substantial concern’

By Ben Hargreaves contact

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/Feodora Chiosea)
(Image: Getty/Feodora Chiosea)

Related tags: Uk, cell and gene therapy, Cell and gene therapy catapult

With the number of roles in manufacturing projected to rise by 196% over the next five years, industry fears a lack of expertise to fill vacuum, according to survey.

The UK’s Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult (CGTC) produced a skills demand report​ at the end of 2019, following up on its previous study released in 2017.

In the interim years between the report, the forecasted figures on the demand for skills were shown to be an underestimate – with employment figures in 2019 substantially ahead of projections.

The 2017 study took place when there were 500 roles across bioprocessing in the UK and estimated that there would be a total 1,000 roles by 2020. By the end of 2019, CGTC discovered that there were currently more than 1,700 roles occupied within bioprocessing and this figure is now projected to increase to 3,800 by 2024.

When speaking at the BIA annual conference at the end of last year, Keith Thompson, CEO of the CGTC, noted how quickly the industry has developed in a short period of time, in terms of the numbers of roles expected to be created by 2024.

He said, “That shows a really big increase in numbers since we first began in 2012, when there were 500 people employed across the whole sector. In the next four to five years, we’re going to double [that], easily.”

Across all the cell and gene therapy industry, which include R&D and support services, there will be an overall increase in the number of roles by 112% to a total of 6,420 positions by 2024.

The positive growth in the number of roles being created also generates problems that the industry will have to face down.

Thompson acknowledged this, saying, “We’ve got a really exciting period of growth coming up and there is a challenge there on how we’re going to ensure an adequate supply of skills is there.”

Industry was also shown to have the same concern; when surveyed, finding recruits specifically within manufacturing was the area that most troubled companies, with this being pinpointed as a cause of ‘substantial concern’ when asked on the ‘level of concern’ for meeting talent demand.

Skilled and experienced

One of the contradictions of hiring trends that the CGTC report noted was the expectations companies had for potential employees.

It noted that companies were looking for ‘skilled and experienced’ people at the same time, which the report stated would pose ‘an issue’ due to there being “not enough trained individuals…available to fulfill the demand.”

From respondents to the report, companies expect to fill roles through individuals ‘skilled with industry experience’ (60%), ‘new graduate/postgraduate’ (30%), and ‘apprentice’ (10%).

In terms of timelines for recruitment, an overwhelming majority (85%) are looking to bring individuals into their companies through a phased approach.

Overall, 98% of companies surveyed are looking to increase their headcount within the next five years. At the same time, 83% of the same companies provided feedback suggesting concerns that recruitment or retention of staff could impact growth.

CGTC listed the companies that responded to the survey and it included some significant names within the UK industry, such as GSK, AstraZeneca, and Allergan. The respondents to the survey represented more than 95% of the UK’s cell and gene manufacturing capacity.

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