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Salaries in sector nearly 30 per cent above average

There are many and varied routes to employment in Ireland’s burgeoning life sciences industry

A graduate chemist can expect to start on about €30,000. Photograph: iStock

A graduate chemist can expect to start on about €30,000. Photograph: iStock

 

The life sciences sector provides a wealth of diverse employment opportunities – and they keep coming.

Among the most recent was the announcement by IDA Ireland that Edwards Lifesciences, a global leader in heart disease and critical care monitoring, had earmarked the National Technology Park, Castletroy, Limerick, as the location for its new permanent facility, which is expected to manufacture delivery components for its heart valve therapies.

The company, headquartered in Irvine, California, plans to complete this new 15,700sq m purpose-built manufacturing facility by 2021. Once fully operational, it will employ about 600 people in roles ranging from leadership to planning, quality control, assembly, engineering and finance in what is an €80 million investment.

“The site we have selected to base our operations in Ireland was chosen for many reasons, but one main attraction for us was the wealth of experienced talent available with the skills we require in the medical technology sector,” said Nathan Tenzer, plant general manager at Edwards Lifesciences.

It comes in addition to the 60 people – production staff, engineering and professional management – employed at Edwards Lifesciences’ initial site in the Shannon Free Zone, which only opened in August of this year.

Such activity is by now characteristic of a country that is already home to 10 of the world’s top 10 pharmaceutical companies and one of the biggest exporters of pharmaceutical products in the world.

According to IDA Ireland, the biopharmaceutical industry here has seen capital investment of about $10 billion in new facilities, the bulk of which has been made in recent years. That makes it close to the biggest wave of investment in new biotech facilities anywhere in the world.

The upshot of all this activity has been rapid growth in opportunity for careers and career advancement.

According to figures from Enterprise Ireland, which supports the indigenous sector, the total life sciences sector in Ireland employs more than 50,000 people directly and exports goods to a value of more than €45 billion annually.

Among the biggest multinational names here are MSD, Amgen and Bristol-Myers Squib, with up to 8,400 new jobs due to be established in the sector here by 2020.

According to Careersportal.ie, Ireland’s national career guidance website, which was developed as a direct response to a report generated by the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs, there are good reasons to consider a career in Ireland’s pharmaceutical sector.

In addition to a wide diversity of career opportunities, statistics from the CSO show that workers in the sector earn on average almost 30 per cent more than the national average.

There are lots of ways in too, including not just via a primary degree at one of the country’s universities or institutes of technology, but also through PLC (post-Leaving Cert) and access courses. These can provide a more circuitous route to the same end.

Getting that first position can be the hardest part. Careersportal.ie cautions that even graduates can find it hard to enter the workforce straight after their course, including those with doctorates. Once in, however, those with postgraduate qualifications tend to move up through the organisation much faster, it says.

Internships

Many of the multinationals operating here offer internships and graduate entry programmes, which can be a good way to build up experience and get a foot in the door.

The sector also provides opportunities for those with IT and engineering backgrounds to make a career change, though that will require some upskilling. There are Government-backed initiatives to those out of work too, such as Springboard and Skillnet Ireland – the national agency for workforce training – courses.

A graduate chemist can expect to start on about €30,000 and a graduate engineer about €38,000, with salaries increasing quite rapidly as experience is required, with most companies in the sector providing a good range of benefits.

A tighter labour market has opened up new opportunities for entry too. In November, Ibec, the employers group, launched laboratory apprenticeship programmes, aimed at school-leavers or level 5 or 6 graduates looking to upskill or retrain in a lab environment in, among others, the biopharma, chemical manufacturing, medical devices and diagnostics sectors. It is also aimed at mature students or those returning to work.

It offers a combination of academics and work placement with two apprenticeship intakes scheduled to take place each year, in January and September.

On-the-job training can also help you progress through the ranks. Skillnet Ireland’s BioPharmaChem Skillnet, for example, is a learning network providing training for the pharmaceutical, biopharmaceutical, chemical supply and medical devices sectors.

These can be both technical and non-technical skills, all at a subsidised cost. “We are hugely supportive of the life sciences sector and have been leading the way in talent engagement,” says Paul Healy, chief executive of Skillnet Ireland. This year alone, some 50,000 people have participated in its programmes, coming from 15,000 firms in 55 different industries.

“We offer industry-led training across workforce planning, workforce development and workforce innovation,” he says. In short, if you want to get in, or get on, in Ireland’s burgeoning lifesciences sector, there are plenty of ways to achieve it.