There is no shortage of career opportunities in the life sciences, but how do graduates and mid-career professionals get there – and are there enough of them to meet industry demand?
Education is key: undergraduate and postgraduate courses, as well as continuous professional development, are vital for the talent pipeline.
James Cassidy is director of Life Science Recruitment, part of the Vertical Markets recruiting group. He has an honours degree in analytical science from DCU and has worked in the medical device and pharmaceutical industries in Ireland and Australia.
“We specialise in medical devices and biopharma,” says Cassidy. “Our focus is on recruiting more experienced staff with particular expertise, but it’s fair to say that the employment market is buoyant, with a lot of capital investment, opportunities for employment and progression, and high demand.” Cassidy says there is a national and international shortage of experienced and highly qualified staff at the moment, particularly where companies are looking for industrial experience. Although they are less focused on recruiting graduates, Cassidy says that there is a high standard of science education in Ireland.
Just as well: Ireland has a particularly strong life sciences industry – and it’s resilient, too, with export sales accounting for more than 60 per cent, a figure that increased by 30 per cent during 2020, in a decade that has seen well over €10 billion invested in new facilities in Ireland.
About 40 per cent of the medical devices firms are based in and around Galway, while most pharmaceutical firms either have an Irish presence or European headquarters here, with the greater Cork and Dublin areas proving particularly attractive. And these firms are here, in part, precisely because Ireland provides strong education and training opportunities.
At undergraduate level, the CAO points for science shot up this year, with many opting for general science degrees, such as those at NUI Galway, UCD and elsewhere: these allow students the chance to get a general feel of science before specialising down the line. Pharmacy – available at Trinity College Dublin, UCC and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland – also offers graduates employment opportunities in the life sciences industry.
There are also, however, more specialised science qualifications that can lead directly to employment in the life sciences, which may be of interest to those students lucky enough to know exactly what they want to do.
These include, for instance, UL’s bachelor of engineering in chemical and biochemical engineering, DCU’s biotechnology course and Trinity’s biological and biomedical sciences course.
UCD’s biomedical, health and life sciences level eight course focuses on how research and technology can affect human health, with graduates learning how science can advance our knowledge of disease prevention, detection and treatment. Graduates on its course typically follow scientific careers in biomedical research, progress to graduate entry medicine programmes or pursue opportunities in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.
There are also plenty of postgraduate courses or upskilling courses that can help you build a career in the life sciences.
These include, for instance, IT Sligo’s MSc or postgraduate diploma in biopharmaceutical processing, developed to help meet the needs of the biopharmaceutical industry in the region. The course looks at the discovery, development and processing of modern medicines by artificially growing some or all of the components using cell culture technologies.
At NUI Galway, the MSc in biotechnology combines lectures, tutorials, assignments and research projects to help prepare graduates for a career in the biological sciences.
Agility is not just important to the sector; it’s also valued by professionals who want a chance to progress and develop within their career. But who has the time to take on a new course? Luckily, many CPD courses today are delivered part-time and online, allowing much flexibility to working professionals with busy lives. Many companies will support their staff with further learning, whether by paying for or subsidising the course, or by facilitating study leave.
One of the most interesting CPD initiatives for life sciences professionals is Trinity’s 11-week digital transformation executive programme for life sciences manufacturing companies, offered online, which equips individuals and business leaders in the sectors with the skills to apply digital strategic thinking to the business.
You'll find more details of CPD courses on springboard.ie, which provides free or heavily subsidised courses and training for in-demand areas, including several life science courses. Qualifax.ie, meanwhile, is a useful resource for anyone looking to find out more about undergraduate or postgraduate life science courses.