DEVELOPING TECHNICIAN SKILLS FOR THE EMERGING ADVANCED THERAPIES SECTOR IN THE UK
From April this year companies with a wage bill of more than £3 million are charged an apprenticeship levy of 0.5% of that bill, but can claim that back by taking on new apprentices. The UK Government has set a current target to create three million apprenticeships by 2020. There are currently a small number of levy paying companies in the ATMP sector. However, we anticipate that the 'non-levy paying' part of the community may take on apprentices when they recognize the value of doing so, and procedures have been clarified and simplified.
The Gatsby Charitable Foundation funded a short piece of work led by Tony Bradshaw of Bradshaw TM, working with Dr Paul Lewis of King’s College London, earlier this year to determine barriers to apprenticeship uptake in the Advanced Therapy Medicinal Products (ATMP) sector. This work was initiated as part of a recommendation contained in a wider skills assessment for the ATMP sector conducted by the MMIP Advanced Therapies Manufacturing Taskforce, led by industry and chaired by Jim Faulkner at Autolus - a leading ATMP company
Fourteen companies were interviewed, including core ATMP organisations and others with similar skills needs. Many of the core ATMP companies are growing rapidly, with a forecast doubling of numbers in the next twenty-four months. Feedback from the organisations that took part was that they are not used to taking on apprentices and support is required to embed apprenticeship thinking in the sector through a partnership between the relevant employers, enabling them to amalgamate demand and coordinate activity. Demand for technicians trained in laboratory work, quality control, engineering maintenance, manufacturing and the supply chain will grow significantly. ATMP companies currently often recruit graduates to such positions, according to research by Paul Lewis commissioned by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation. This is far from ideal. Graduates can often lack the practical skills required and may quickly become dissatisfied with technician roles, leading to high staff turnover.
One of the main barriers to the training up of the apprentices ATMP companies need is that the numbers required in specific geographical areas may be too small for providers to begin offering training programmes. Distance learning supplemented by periodic residential courses could be used to extend the geographical area from which apprentices are trained.
The Gatsby Charitable Foundation recognises these issues and is catalysing an initiative to overcome the barriers, with longer term funding anticipated through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF). The early Gatsby-funded work is looking to help facilitate a partnership of ATMP employers to encourage the pooling of demand for apprentices and the coordination of their training. Tony Bradshaw and his team will be engaging with the community to put high quality apprenticeships on the map. Apprenticeships are obviously only part of the solution and the follow on ISCF funding will work with the ATMP community on a wider talent management plan to ensure that we capture the value presented by these cutting edge therapies.
If the UK is to achieve the government’s aim of becoming a centre of excellence for both the research and manufacturing of ATMPs, industry and policy-makers must act fast. Introducing measures to encourage more apprenticeships - in ATMPs and other fields too – would be of huge advantage not only to the individuals concerned, but also the companies that benefit from their future expertise and the wider UK economy.