Much in Demand
In conversation with Stephen Ward, Chief Manufacturing Officer at the UK’s Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult
James Strachan | | Interview
Why are new people crucial to the success of the cell and gene therapy industry?
There’s a skills gap across the global cell and gene therapy industry today – everyone needs more skilled people. It isn’t stopping companies starting or growing now, but it will restrict the growth potential of the industry over the next couple of years, unless something is done to remedy the situation. In the UK alone, the industry will need 3000–4000 new skilled recruits over the next four or five years to enable it to grow at the rate we think it can.
Which roles are most in demand? And how can the industry address the skills gap?
There are a number of hotspots in manufacturing, with quality assurance skills certainly in demand today. We know that companies want the majority of new staff to have industry experience, but we also know there aren’t enough of these people in the cell and gene therapy industry to go around. So how do we square this circle?
Although there might not be enough workers with the exact skills required, there are people in other industries with an abundance of transferable skills. Companies might not think of poaching someone from the food sector, but food is a highly regulated industry, and someone who understands quality assurance for one sector should be able to apply it to another – with some training. The same goes for engineers (who are also in short supply). There are facility engineers in the automotive, robotics and semiconductor industries that are running highly complex processes, following detailed instructions in a routine way. They might not have biology PhDs, but these are the right transferable skills for cell and gene therapy manufacturing. As an industry, it’s about boxing clever. We can’t conjure highly trained staff with direct industry experience out of thin air. Taking workers with the right transferable skills from other industries – especially declining ones, as Netty England and Kit Erlebach said – will be the key to success.
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