Thinking of a New Science Career? The Future Is in Biopharma

Are you considering your career options? Don’t overlook biopharma. A new report from the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN) reveals that some 8,400 job vacancies could be available in Ireland in this science sector by 2020.

What is biopharma?

One reason why the biopharma sector offers so much employment potential is that it faces stiff competition from sectors with higher profiles. Even the report points out that the biopharma industry needs to do more to attract science graduates, many of whom are not aware of the careers it can offer.

The term “biopharma” covers both biologics medicines (produced in living organisms) and pharmaceutical drugs (produced chemically). The biopharma industry has a huge and growing impact on the health and lifestyles of millions of people – something the industry needs to communicate more clearly to school leavers choosing college courses and to suitably qualified candidates looking for new career opportunities.

To that end, the EFGSN has recommended the continued development of the Biopharma Skills Forum (established by the industry representative body BioPharmaChem Ireland), as well as a structured system of placement opportunities for relevant academic staff in biopharma firms.

Opportunities in biopharma

The biopharma sector already employs more than 28,000 people in Ireland, as well as providing many secondary jobs in construction and other services when new plants are being developed. With 8,400 new jobs likely to come on stream by 2020, this could be the sector for you if you have the right skills and talent.

Employment growth is being driven by the ongoing global challenge of pursuing innovation and operational excellence, maintaining international standards of product and process compliance, and providing the skills needed for pharma “small molecules” and biologics “large molecules” drug manufacturing.

What do you need for a career in biopharma?

At present, recruiters are seeking the equivalent of at least an honours bachelor’s degree (NFQ Level 8) for process engineering and scientist roles, with some expecting a master’s degree (NFQ Level 9) or equivalent. Most are looking for people with experience, and expect candidates to hit the ground running. Companies including Regeneron are taking on quality graduates at Level 8 without prior experience, however. Regeneron and the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training (NIBRT) give these candidates further training.

Some individuals at Advanced or Higher Certificate levels (NFQ Levels 6/7) are being taken on by companies and upskilled in house to fill quality assurance/validation and operator roles. All applicants should possess so-called soft skills including leadership, communication, the ability to work well in a team, and problem solving. Start-ups that are in the process of scaling up are keen to acquire employees with quality assurance/validation skills and analytical experience, as well as technicians with analytic skills for ongoing plant automation. Companies at start-up stage are hiring substantial numbers of project managers and schedulers.

Specific skillsets in demand within the biopharma industry

  • Bioprocess engineering/technical skills (several years’ experience)
  • Biochemists and biological and chemical technicians
  • Cell culture/biologics skills (several years’ experience)
  • Automation/IT systems skills
  • Quality/regulatory affairs skills (common to basic science disciplines)
  • Alertness to cross-functional discipline areas
  • Leadership, team-working, communications, problem-solving, and other soft skills
  • Data analytics skills (particularly for biochemists/microbiologists engaged in biologics manufacturing)
  • Strategic leaders to realise innovative potential and advance business performance

Future Roles

The EGFSN report predicts that the biopharma industry (including sub-supply companies) will create a diverse range of roles during the next five years. Candidates for these roles will need specific science, engineering, technology, and business skills across NFQ levels 6-9. Indeed, many biopharma companies fear that they will not have sufficient staff with the necessary skills to meet the predicted expansion in “large molecule” biologics manufacturing.


The 2016 Springboard+ programme, which offers free courses leading to qualifications in job-growth areas, has approved some 935 Biopharma training places. These courses will be run by a range of public and private education and training providers to create an immediate additional stream of candidates for jobs in the biopharma industry. It is likely that the Springboard+ program will continue to expand its provision for biopharma as the sector grows.

Check out KerrySciTech if you are seeking a job or offering employment in the science or technology sectors in Kerry.