Mature workers greatly outnumber newer employees in the UK life sciences sector – which could possibly lead to a shortage of essential skills, according to a new survey.

Figures compiled by Cogent Skills from the national Labour Force Survey in the past 12 months show that in life sciences, there are 28% more employees aged 40-64 than 16-40. New or recent school leavers and graduates make up only 5% of the total workforce.

More than 80% of companies in the sector have vacancies affected by skills shortages with more than 70% struggling to attract applicants with the skills they need to satisfy “hard to fill” vacancies.

Mark Botting, board member of the Science Industry Partnership, says: “The age gap across the life sciences sector is a clear signal that science sector companies need to have succession planning along with skills and talent development on their agenda now. Skills shortages ultimately affect an organisation’s ability to compete in an increasingly global market.

“The figures we have collated suggest that a greater proportion of people currently working across industrial and life sciences will be leaving the workforce in the next 25 years than those remaining behind. The sector needs to do something now to address the brain drain.” 

Cogent Skills, the UK’s strategic body for skills in the science industries, highlights Actavis’ Trailblazer apprenticeships – which are bespoke for the company’s skills requirements – as an example of how this can be addressed.

“Though employers may previously have struggled with the concept of employing apprentices rather than graduates, they are now understanding the opportunity apprenticeships offer to individuals and the company,” says Hilary Jeffreys, technical transfer manager at Actavis.

“The qualifications combined with the experience apprentices gain are very relevant to employers. With bespoke apprenticeships such as the Trailblazer we will develop people with the right skills because we’ve been directly involved in defining and shaping what is required to enable the employee to do the role by the end of the course.”