Over the past few weeks, we have shared our knowledge about the types of life sciences innovation happening across Wales. While the industry employs a large number of people – more than 11,000 and growing – many in the community, including new school leavers, know very little about the opportunities available.
While the industry is science-driven, there are many supporting career fields within the industry for those who are not science-oriented. In early 2020, to highlight these opportunities, Christie Harper, Gatehouse ICS’ founder and company director, set about preparing an industry Feasibility Report to explore employment opportunities and the need to recruit talent to support innovative companies that have established in South and West Wales.
As we shared in our previous blog, many life sciences companies have set up operations or built their businesses from the ground up in Wales, and while the centres of Swansea and Cardiff attract many innovators, quite a few have set up their businesses in rural areas in West and Mid Wales. These companies can struggle to employ enough people to fill roles in rural communities despite statistics showing 15.5% of 19-24 year-olds are not in education, employment or training (NEET). The question this report posed is, are school leavers and their advisers aware of the opportunities or the study paths needed to attain jobs in the industry?
Our own experience suggests not. Geena Ware, who joined Gatehouse earlier this year, knew very little about the industry beforehand and says few of the people within her community know what the industry does or what job opportunities are available to them. For many, the life sciences equates to healthcare and most tend to think of these jobs as being for doctors and nurses.
A broad array of roles
Yet the opportunities in the life sciences extend beyond scientific roles. Moreover, many companies struggling with a skills shortage have said they aren’t necessarily looking for people with a degree. The issue of matching school leavers in Wales to local jobs is not an easy fix, but it’s one that Christie and others are committed to addressing.
It is, however, important to understand the role innovative companies play in their communities. While many young people choose to move to other parts of the UK – either seeking career opportunities, adventure or simply because they don’t believe there are jobs for them in their communities – many would also prefer to stay in Wales or return to their communities in Wales.
Several life sciences companies that have started in rural Wales choose to stay there because of the cultural links and lifestyle. In our previous blog we spoke about Protherics, now part of BTG. Based in rural West Wales, the majority of the company’s employees are local and wouldn’t necessarily have had the skills or qualifications when they started in their roles. Protherics chose to invest in their employees and build the expertise organically.
A symbiotic relationship
The success of local companies also depends on the broader success of the community, and that means investing in local businesses to create a symbiotic relationship that helps everyone to thrive. As an example, Gatehouse ICS is a very community-based business and seeks ways to strengthen the local community. While people can work remotely, we have an office in Ammanford, Carmarthenshire, which is an important base for local employees. We seek to support the local community in different ways. For example, we have meetings in local cafes to help support independent businesses in the area and build that sense of community.
Even for whole-of-company meetings, we prefer to invest in special local areas by holding them in places such as Aberglasney Gardens and the National Botanic Gardens of Wales, stunning settings which we are so lucky to have on our doorstep. It’s surely more productive to hold meetings in beautiful surroundings where people can step out into nature and feel rejuvenated.
The opportunities for businesses and the community are there, helped by the fact that Wales’ infrastructure, both in terms of IT structure and capabilities has allowed local innovators to create their businesses locally and leverage the many innovation hubs that exist within Wales. As a business and as proud Welshwomen, we hope that knowledge about the industry and the many varied roles open to young people becomes better understood so more school leavers find their way into the life sciences here. One way to expand your knowledge is to connect with the Mullany Fund, which runs e-mentoring with volunteers from all areas of life in Wales. The e-mentoring programme supports young people to build on their aspirations and gain knowledge and skills as they begin their career journey.
In addition, Gatehouse is deeply committed to helping young people learn about the industry and develop professional skills. We run an internship programme for school and university leavers and have a strong focus on providing entry-level positions for people new to the workforce. We are also committed to truly sustainable working practices, built on flexible principles while offering and encouraging an in-person office where the commute is not onerous.