By Barry Heavey, head of life sciences, IDA Ireland
In the last decade, the global life sciences industry has seen tremendous growth, which has necessitated a commensurate growth in its infrastructure, including training centers and R&D facilities. In Ireland, it seems like everywhere you turn these days there is another biopharmaceutical facility being built by companies such as Alexion, Regeneron, Amgen, BioMarin, and Pfizer. The country has amassed more than 30 FDA-approved sites employing more than 47,000 people in the areas of pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical devices, and diagnostics. Just two years ago the global budget for R&D facilities was $103 billion. With this growth comes the opportunity for companies to prioritize real-world, hands-on training for graduates and those new to the industry. This, in turn, drives escalating levels of innovation. Let’s take a look at how education and training helped Ireland grow to become one of the world’s leading life sciences hubs.
TRANSITIONING FROM CLASSROOM TO REAL WORLD
Some of the best biopharmaceutical programs in Europe are found in universities and institutions across Ireland. At colleges such as University College Dublin and National University of Ireland at Galway, students have the privilege of learning from well-educated professors. But what happens to students after graduation? Are they being provided with an education that allows them to enter the biopharm workforce and begin hands-on work immediately?
Not everything that takes place in a work environment can be learned from a textbook. Previously, biopharm manufacturing centers often didn’t have machinery reserved for training new graduates. This made it difficult to give new recruits the hands-on experience they needed. Additionally, any training provided could affect a facility’s budget and interfere with the daily production schedule.
Today, some manufacturing centers are starting to designate sections for trainee machinery, which allows graduates to finally put down the books and learn in a real-world environment. This competency- based training gets new employees involved in process development immediately, but it is expensive for each facility to incorporate.
Ireland’s National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training (NIBRT) is taking the research and training center to the next level for graduates. Think about a training and research center that works in the same way as a flight simulator. With the approach taken by NIBRT, training centers are able to quickly bring trainees up to speed in a real-world setting. The institute can be used by all of the local companies, which can significantly reduce both the cost and time of getting new recruits up and operating.
SETTING THE STAGE FOR SUCCESS
At NIBRT, training is focused on cross-functional teams, so trainees are equipped to succeed in the workforce. Education never stops in this industry, and it’s necessary to keep up with innovation. When looking to build new facilities, companies in Ireland must not only build for the now, but also for the next 10 to 20 years. Biopharm companies expect the number of treatments to quadruple in the next 10 years, and it is this that is driving the factories of the future with shorter production runs, disposable systems, and a more flexible workforce.
COLLABORATION WITHIN THE INDUSTRY
While it’s generally accepted that a healthy amount of competition among companies is a good thing, the same could also be said for collaboration. Biopharm companies with operations in Ireland keep their trade secrets close and their competitors closer. True innovation in Ireland comes from companies feeding off one another. Training centers allow for education and growth, but providing trainees with experience in more subsets of biopharmaceutical categories expands upon their existing knowledge base. This can be done by partnering up companies in the same building, which enables collaboration among companies to identify challenges and find solutions.
It is impossible to innovate without talent. By expanding the workforce to include more jobs and different roles and responsibilities, life sciences will continue to prosper in Ireland. Ireland has one of the youngest workforces in Europe. Since the end of 2012 alone, the Irish workforce has expanded by more than 60,000 full-time employees. With more positions opening up, the industry can bolster the workforce with processes, research, and trainers/trainees — many with third-level (i.e., higher education) qualifications. In Ireland, 50 percent of the direct employment within the pharmaceutical industry has a third-level qualification. A larger workforce with all levels of qualifications leads to better processes, which leads to more solutions.