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Across the board demand

Barry McCall finds strong demand in the life sciences sector for a broad range of skills including some quite surprising ones


According to the most recent study carried out by the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN), the biopharmaceutical sector in Ireland, comprising the traditional pharmaceutical industry and the latest wave of biotechnology companies, will have created a combined 8,400 new jobs between 2016 and 2020. The majority of these openings will require specific biopharma science, technology and engineering skillsets while there will also be demand for roles in areas such as facility maintenance, supply chain and logistics, human resources, finance, legal, and warehousing.

In addition, a report produced by the Irish Medtech Association in May of this year predicted that an additional 4,000 jobs will be added to the medical device industry in Ireland by 2020. Nearly a third of these new jobs will be in specialised areas such as R&D and engineering. This will bring total employment in the sector to more than 33,000.

“The biopharmaceutical sector employs 30,000 people in Ireland,”says EGFSN chairperson Tony Donohoe. “For demographic reasons that’s going to keep growing. We are living longer and staying healthier and that is driving growth in demand for new medicines and treatments. We are fortunate in Ireland to have so many of the world’s top ten life sciences companies here. The sector requires a wide range of skills and disciplines from advanced research roles, to quality control, manufacturing engineers and so on.”

The openings aren’t just at the top end for PhDs or research scientists, he notes. “There are openings at all levels with some of the greatest demand being for technicians.”

Rebecca Brown, pharmaceutical recruitment specialist with CPL, agrees. “There is a very wide range of skills required and the industry is moving on all the time,” she says. “Some of the roles we are recruiting for now weren’t heard of even a few years ago and some of the jobs that were there 10 years ago no longer exist and have been replaced by other new ones.”

Among the skills in greatest demand is technology transfer. “This is a huge area,” she says. “The big pharmaceutical companies are constantly bringing new processes, products and technologies into Ireland and they need people who can work on those projects. If you think of a company that’s relocating to Ireland, they are moving product and technology to this country and they need people with technology transfer experience to do that. Microbiology is also very big. Microbiologists can go into a lot of different areas in the industry. Biotechnology experience is huge at the moment as well.”

“The industry is very buoyant across all areas – pharma, biotech, and medical devices”, says James Cassidy of Life Science Recruitment. “There is strong demand for people with a technical background and the areas most difficult to fill are clinical and regulatory roles. There has been lots of investment in biopharmaceuticals and there is need for people with experience in that areas and there’s not a lot of that around. That will work itself out over time though.”

Science and engineering skills aren’t the only ones in demand. The industry has a growing requirement for accounting and finance professionals, according to KPMG partner Sean O’Keefe. “A number of pharmaceutical companies now have significant back office activities here in Ireland,” he says. “Pfizer, Jazz and Horizon all have significant accounting and treasury operations in Ireland now.”

Skills in ICT and other disciplines are also required, according to Science Foundation Ireland strategy director Dr Ruth Freeman. “There are a number of levels to the skills needs of the industry,” she says. “At one level there are the fourth level graduates capable of leading researcher projects but not everyone needs this level of educational attainment. A range of different skills in areas such as ICT as well as science and engineering are needed to meet the needs of the industry.”

Panel: The top jobs for today and tomorrow

Technology transfer specialists

Demand is strong for people with technology transfer related skills at present. “Employers are drawn to candidates who have experience with process, or product, development with a background in method development and validation,” says Rebecca Brown.

Clinical trial professionals

The ongoing development of new pharmaceutical products is generating a healthy demand for qualified professionals who are able to translate clinical knowledge into practice to deliver and manage clinical trials. Roles for people with skills in this area include clinical research associate, clinical research scientist, clinical research co-ordinator, and clinical project manager.

Quality assurance and validation professionals

Quality control and assurance is of critical importance to the life sciences industry and the industry is reporting difficulties in recruiting quality control lab technicians and validation professionals. Particularly sought after are individuals with experience of US FDA accredited facilities.

Regulatory affairs

Regulatory affairs professional ensure that products are manufactured and distributed in compliance with legislation. Demand for people with experience in this area is high and regulatory affairs officers, managers and consultants are found across the pharmaceutical, chemical, clinical research, medical device and biotechnology industries.

Biotechnology specialists

Biotechnology involves the alteration of molecules, genes and cells to develop new medicines and therapies. The skills needed for the research and development, manufacturing and commercialisation of these large molecule biologics medicines are very specific and still relatively rare in Ireland.

Body part designer

Using 3D bioprinting it is now possible to create complex 3D functional living tissues and organs suitable for transplantation. In future, body part designers will work on new joints and even organs for patients. “We are already creating bio-compatible materials from patients’ own cells to make cartilage and other body parts,” says Ruth Freeman. “The other side of that is the use of 3D printing to make exact matches for devices such as artificial hips.”

Genetic engineer

Genetic engineering – or genetic modification – is the direct manipulation of an organism’s genes using biotechnology. Genetic engineers are already manipulating DNA to cure diseases or add new traits to micro-organisms to aid the battle against diseases. This is the foundation of ground-breaking gene therapy for cancer treatment. “It’s really exciting to see game-changing technologies like these coming through,” says Freeman. “SFI has just announced a partnership with Shire and the Irish Haemophilia Society to use genotyping to develop new individualised treatments for haemophilia sufferers.”

Genetic counsellor

Having access to your DNA profile and the knowledge that you may be carrying an inherited disease could have profound psychological effects. Genetic counsellors will address the concerns of patients, their families, and their health care providers, offering them support in dealing with these illnesses.