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Life sciences training increasing with remote working

BioPharmaChem Skillnet seeing companies invest in lifelong learning during pandemic

The sector’s focus on remote training has played a key role in supporting inclusivity at a difficult time. Photograph: iStock

The sector’s focus on remote training has played a key role in supporting inclusivity at a difficult time. Photograph: iStock


Covid and the move to remote working has resulted in a significant increase in training in the life sciences sector.

“2020 has seen the most certified programmes we’ve ever run, all delivered remotely because companies are really investing in lifelong learning,” says Susan Costello, manager of the BioPharmaChem Skillnet training network.

As well as delivering new skills, the sector’s focus on remote training has played a key role in supporting inclusivity at a difficult time.

“We take feedback from all our programmes and for one that finished up recently, a participant told us how much he’d miss the interaction which is indicative of the connectedness that training also offered this year,” says Costello.

“After all, if you take a step back, for people used to being on site, meeting for coffees in a busy office environment with lots of human contact, this year has meant being all of a sudden at home and, in some cases, isolated.”

From an employer’s perspective, training had a role to play not just in skill building but in employee engagement too.

“What we saw were companies looking for training in relation to subjects such as ‘enabling remote teams’ and ‘coaching in the new norm’. As well as help with all the tech skills we saw lots of demand for personal effectiveness programmes covering areas such as negotiations and critical thinking,” she says.


Demand for programmes that mix technical and functional skills with soft skills such as how to stay connected in a remote world rose significantly.

“We didn’t have a requirement for such programmes in the past because people were used to weekly or even daily team meetings and catch-ups in the office. That’s all gone now.”

Schools closed on March 12th and by April 1st, BioPharmaChem Skillnet had delivered its first free online programme by Zoom, appropriately entitled ‘managing and leading teams from a distance’.

It subsequently ran a series of personal-effectiveness programmes, including ones focusing on wellbeing for the remote worker.

In some ways the most challenging aspect for inclusivity this year has been the fact that the life sciences and medtech sector has continued hiring new staff throughout.

“The sector has seen massive recruitment over the past eight months and very many of these new recruits have been hired and onboarded entirely remotely,” she says.

To help support inclusivity many companies have introduced a buddy system, an informal connection with a member of staff outside of their direct reporting structure, whose role is to simply help the new recruit navigate through the organisation, to gain an understanding of who does what and how things work.


The sector has also continued its work promoting equality and diversity this year too.

“We launched ‘inspiring girls, supporting female leaders’, a new strategy which aims to encourage more women working in and progressing to leadership positions within the sector,” explains Sinéad Keogh, director of the Irish Medtech Association which is part of employers’ organisation Ibec.

The association’s gender leadership task force identified three key capabilities it wanted to focus on.

These included showing how companies are encouraging students to pursue further education in technology and engineering roles. It also wanted to show how senior leaders and human-resource managers consider a diverse panel of recruitment candidates for every position, notably women, and to demonstrate the ways in which companies in the sector are adapting for the modern world of work with more flexibility and better work-life balance.

Covid has highlighted a number of issues in relation to gender equality. “Women still do a disproportionate amount of unpaid work such as housework and caring roles with children as well as the elderly. Those who are active in the workforce also work fewer hours than men with many in part-time jobs and are over-represented in lower-productivity sectors,” says Keogh.

Women in the workforce face a double burden as those pursuing top careers must overcome structural barriers to succeed.

“Flexible work can help women, and parents, gain greater control by managing their work-life balance,” say Keogh. Unfortunately, in the meantime, given that the work life burden continues to fall more heavily on female shoulders, “Covid has certainly not helped”, she says.