There is no quick fix for long-term talent gap issue, say experts

There are solutions available to alleviate talent shortages in the biopharma space but the issues cannot be solved quickly.

There is a general consensus among professionals that the amount of talent coming through is not reflective of the huge investment in capacity being seen across the Life Sciences industry. The lack of qualified staff in the space is well documented, with the cell and gene therapy sector particularly affected.

Solutions to minimize the talent gap have been provided by different players in the field and range from academic programs, virtual reality (VR) training, and telling kids that “science is cool.”  However, a panel discussion at Terrapin’s Advanced Therapies Week in London, UK last week highlighted the problem cannot be fixed quickly.

Advanced Therapies Europe panel. Image c/o Millie Nelson

“For a relatively small company, our biggest challenge is [staff]. I think this is a long-term problem that can’t easily be solved, it is not something where you can send people on a training course and then” expect that to alleviate pressure said Geoff Hamilton, CEO at Stemson Therapeutics.

“It needs to go back to academia and education. This way you create students that come out ‘primed’ to bring these capabilities and in many cases, teach their manager, their boss [these skills]. We need to look at how the industry can support this, through internships etc.”

Manuel Carrondo, vice president of business development at iBET agreed and told the audience “Obviously, we are lacking competent people […] things take time, we have better tools to cut the time, but we can’t sort the issue in just a few months.”

Pre-empting needs

Collectively the panelists agreed that the magnitude of the problem is no quick fix but Jasmin Kee, an independent bioprocessing consultant, said another challenge the industry is facing is finding people with “digital skillsets.”

Fausto Artico, global R&D tech head and product director of innovation and data science at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), replied “I see this kind of challenge in addition to the existing gap, we are trying to bridge the gap for digital.”

To support upcoming problems, which the biopharma space might face later, Kee told delegates “We need to start thinking with the end in mind, which is market access. That’s the problem we think ‘down the line’ but we should have that resource strategy in place [already] and have it where we can recruit the right people at the right time.”

Angela Justice, chief people officer at TCR² Therapeutics, said “smaller cell therapy companies don’t think about it soon enough,” and posed the question “what is the industry doing to upskill already trained people in the field?”

In September 2022, Justice lauded positive work culture to overcome staff bottlenecks and said this is key to attracting and retaining talent in the field.