Our Senior Consultant Kerry Hillier shares her key takeaways from the “Britain’s Got Talent?” panel discussion held at Pharma Integrates on 16th November 2023. The panel was facilitated by Jane Kennedy, Chief Business Officer at Discovery Park. The panellists included:
Fiona Marston – Chair & Chief Executive Officer at Erebagen
Nick Smith – Regional Operations Manager at Scitech
Amina Udechuku – Head of Vaccines, UK, at Takeda UK
Andrew Croydon – Director, Education and Examination Policy & Partnerships at The ABPI

As our ability to treat diseases becomes ever more advanced, the skills gap across the pharmaceutical sector continues to grow. How can we upskill our workforce, better manage talent, and encourage diversity to drive innovation?

The panel opened with a discussion of how talent is crucial to establish the UK as a science superpower. Andrew Croydon highlighted the importance of improving the perception of the pharmaceutical industry to attract the best people. He suggested that we need to think about how to tell our story in the right way, both in times of crisis and in peace times, to nurture a strong talent pipeline.

Diversity at all rungs of the ladder

Diversity was a key theme throughout the session. Amina Udechuku commented that, while attracting diverse talent is important at all levels, we really need to focus on what is happening as you work your way up the ladder to positions of power where the decisions are being made. She shared the example that, in FTSE 500 companies, less than 10% of CEOs are women, and less than 7% are from ethnic minorities. As of September, there is only one black woman who is CEO of a FTSE 500 company. She suggested that, to tackle this, we need to think about both equity and equality: “Are we all starting the race from the first place, and even when the race is going, do we all face the same hurdles and barriers? Everyone should be equipped with the tools they need to be able to compete with others on a level playing field.”

Fiona Marston commented, “At the hospital where I am a board member, we have a saying: ‘A face like mine.’ We have a responsibility to go out there and show young people that it doesn’t matter who you are, what you look like or where you come from – these are not barriers to your achievements.”

Different routes to entry

The panel agreed there is a need to explore different routes into the industry, including both apprenticeships and academic routes. Andrew Croydon shared the example of an apprentice who earned a PhD placement at a very prestigious university because of the extensive technical knowledge she had gained from her apprenticeships. This put her ahead of the other candidates who came from purely academic backgrounds.

Nick Smith discussed the importance of creating a culture and environment that promotes growth and retention. He gave an example from one of his previous positions at a cell and gene therapy company, where an individual joined the company as a contract cleaner. By consistently demonstrating her reliability and willingness to learn, she moved into a science role and eventually worked her way up to become a senior scientist.

Digital upskilling

Another key topic was the issue of the growing digital divide between different generations in the workforce. Amina Udechuku suggested that we need to upskill the existing workforce in order to keep up with ongoing technological advancements. She explained, “At Takeda, we have a reverse mentoring scheme where a senior leader who may not have that skillset is paired up with a graduate who is digitally savvy. The learning that goes on both ways is absolutely phenomenal.”

Fiona Marsten commented on the need for the life science industry to influence the education sector to encourage greater emphasis on creativity and innovation, rather than rote learning. The pane agreed and discussed the idea that industry could offer additional ways to provide young people with real-world experience, such as placements in the summer holidays.

Identifying and exploiting Britain’s talent

It is clear that Britain does have talent, but that the pharmaceutical industry could do more to nurture parallel talent pipelines through different routes, ensuring that everyone is given equal opportunities to contribute their unique skillset. Nick Smith summed it up, “The talent is definitely here, but we need to ensure we can identify it and exploit it.”

If you would like to discuss any of the issues outlined above, do feel free to contact Kerry directly at Kerry.Hillier@thersagroup.com

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