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Science Minister David Willetts has announced a £52 million investment in new and emerging science talent, creating more than 7800 education and skills opportunities over a 2 year period.

The Science Industrial Partnership (SIP) initiative, led by GlaxoSmithKline, will design the vocational training and skills programmes that the life sciences, chemicals and industrial science sectors need to thrive and compete in the global economy. Cogent, the expert skills body for the science industries, is facilitating the SIP and has spent the last 6 months identifying employer demand for the skills programmes.

Government will contribute £32.6 million to the partnership, with £20 million from employers, alongside £31 million in-kind contributions. This will fund a range of ultimately self-sustaining activities expected to improve skills in these sectors. These include apprenticeships, traineeships, new Industry Degrees, modular Masters courses and workforce development opportunities; all with the aim to deliver employment-ready graduates and high tech skills in the workplace.

With this commitment comes the recognition of the importance of the science based industries to the UK’s future prosperity – and that skills are the key driver of their competitiveness.
To maintain our position at the international forefront, it is vital that the next generation of life science employees are suitably trained. As it stands, graduates from life science degree programmes are often not deemed to be ‘industry-ready’ and a gap in training provision exists. Furthermore, with the increase in university fees, a degree is often not a feasible option for those seeking to pursue a career in the life sciences. Thus the programme of Industry Degrees and increased number of apprenticeships and traineeships may well go some way to ameliorate this problem.
The Society of Biology recognises the importance of the skills pipeline and is involved in a number of projects. Our Degree Accreditation Programme aims to acknowledge academic excellence by highlighting degrees that provide graduates with the skills and experience necessary to enter employment in research and innovation, and the Drug Discovery Skills Group works to address the decline in training capacity which has resulted from the recent downsizing of large multinational pharmaceutical companies in the UK.
However, it’s not just the skills and opportunities available for new graduates and trainees which the Society of Biology seeks to champion; our Returners to Bioscience initiative aims to highlight the pool of potential talent represented by the ‘returner’ community. This community comprises those who would like to return to a career in the biosciences after an extended career break. Such a career break can occur for a variety of reasons including focusing on caring responsibilities, ill-health, relocation, unemployment or a switch of career path.
As such, we welcome the inclusion of a suite of workforce development opportunities within the SIP. These aim to allow 5,900 individuals to take accredited workforce development courses specifically aimed at supporting growth and increasing individual competency. We hope that these opportunities would be open to returners and provide a platform to refresh and cultivate the necessary skills to facilitate a return to career in the biosciences.