Alwyn Jones, Head of Pharmaceutical & Life Sciences at Siemens, discusses how technology will be pivotal to increasing manufacturing productivity in the UK
Manufacturing is on the brink of a truly exciting new industrial era, perhaps a fourth industrial revolution – spearheaded by the digital technologies of the future. Although UK manufacturing slowed during the latter months of 2015, the pharmaceutical industry has held its own coping with its unique challenges, namely increased global competition and the challenges of a fast evolving regulatory environment. The best way to tackle these twin challenges, frankly, is to strongly invest in tomorrow’s technology today and increase productivity.
Technology has always played an important role, with advanced digital platforms helping to usher in productivity gains in the pharmaceutical & life sciences sectors, while also controlling costs and contributing to the UK’s global competitiveness. Technology offers a radiant beam of optimism to help economies innovate and grow, to genuinely do things better, and to build on the UK’s proud industrial heritage.
The pharmaceutical manufacturing landscape is under increasing pressure from a global market, with requirements for companies to prepare for serialisation and track-and-trace regulations in 2017. Simultaneously, the need for flexible manufacturing continues to rise, with an ongoing emphasis on driving down cost. Pharmaceutical manufacturers and technology specialists must work in partnership to consider how we can best utilise technology’s many benefits to address these challenges. To ensure the UK is a worthy and successful competitor on the global manufacturing stage, investment in innovation must be a priority to ensure productivity boosts and cost reductions.
The risk posed by a growing skills shortage
According to the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), the pharmaceutical industry contributes more to the UK economy than would be possible if other industrial sectors used the same resources. In other words, the people and capital employed in the pharmaceutical industry earn more income for the UK than they would if they were in any other sector of the economy. Despite this, employers are experiencing difficulties in recruiting the right people with nearly twice as many likely to report a hard-to-fill vacancy than in other sectors, stifling growth. The rise of digitalisation and automation is causing more demand for high-skilled roles and with the UK facing a shortage of workers proficient in STEM subjects, advances in technology are at risk if employees with the right skills are not available.
Within the pharmaceutical industry, an ageing demographic and skills shortage places doubt on whether the number of engineering scientists or lab technicians required to support manufacturers will be available in the future. The industry requires 100,000 new recruits every year to replace the retiring baby-boomer generation; a challenge recognised by Westminster, which is responding by calling for greater uptake of apprenticeship schemes. New plans were recently announced by the British Government to help it reach its pledge to create 3 million apprenticeships by 2020, certain to benefit the pharmaceutical industry which is keen to encourage more apprentices into the sector.
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