The below is an opinion piece by Rachel Moir at Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC).

As countries around the globe focus on delivering green recovery strategies, one of the key challenges to implementation is ensuring the workforce has the knowledge and skills to do so.  We need a workforce with an overarching aim to protect the global environment to deliver a green economy.

The ambition and force for change is evident in today’s young workforce.  According to a recent survey by domestic and business energy supplier Good Energy, 50 percent of people aged 18 to 34 wanted a job in the green economy.  The survey of 1,000 young people found 57% would prefer to work for a business that was environmentally sustainable. A further 58 percent thought climate breakdown was our next big global crisis, while 45 percent believing  sustainable sectors offered a more secure career.

So how can Scotland turn this ambition into action and create opportunities for young people to carve out careers in roles to protect the planet and match their values and morals ?

Industrial Biotechnology (IB) is a key sector that can help to deliver employment opportunities that live up to their expectations of achieving impact and real change in the fight to tackle climate change and support the growth of high-tech, low carbon industries that will drive and sustain Scotland’s economy and environment.

In my role as Skills Programme Manager at Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC), I collaborate with colleges and universities to design and develop courses from higher national diploma (HND) through to PhD level to ensure there is a strong pipeline of skilled graduates who can fuel Scotland’s IB growth to tackle climate change.

Scotland has always had a strong cohort of science and engineering graduates, although not necessarily with the specific IB skills industry needs.  That is why the IBioIC skills team has been working with education and industry partners to develop IB courses that will help to deliver better, cleaner and safer products across a variety of industries.

The HND programme has been vital source of industry-ready entrants into the sector as  technicians – an area where a key gap was identified.  Working with sector employers, the course has been designed in partnership with them to take account of the skills needed to fill the gap and build a green workforce.  The Retain and Inspire aspect of the programme sees industry members delivering guest lectures and workshops and IBioIC arranges site visits to give students a real insight into the wide variety of roles available in the IB sector, including the commercial and manufacturing aspect of roles

IBioIC also provides funding and training for MSc and PhD students who specialise in IB areas.  Students are given access to IBioIC member networks, helping them access work experience and industrial placements, and support is also offered on the commercial aspects of business, including the costing of bioprocesses.  Students also receive presentation and communications skills workshops and these are put to good use when PhD students participate in the Leaders in Science (LiS) programme. 

The programme, run by IBioIC in partnership with founder, Dr Jo Sadler, University of Edinburgh, sees PhD students train and support sixth year high school pupils to create and deliver STEM content to primary school children, and sees pupils deliver sessions on topics including Global Health, Drugs and Vaccines, as well as Food Security.  IBioIC’s ambition to grow a green workforce really does start from an early age.

But it’s not just school pupils and students who can lead the green charge.  Scotland already has a skilled talent pool that could help the transition to a cleaner and sustainable economy, especially in established sectors where IB is already disrupting, such as traditional chemicals and manufacturing.   IBioIC run two bioprocessing hubs in Glasgow and Edinburgh where a variety of courses are on offer to employers to help them cross train and upskill their staff. Courses on downstream bioprocessing specific to the biotech sector, fermentation, process costing and bioinformatics are just a few on offer that can help organisations to futureproof their business and support the growth of this dynamic and developing sector.

The pace of change is fast and the opportunities for an interesting and rewarding career in the IB sector are wide and diverse.   There is a huge appetite in the IB sector in Scotland to drive the green economy.  It is an ambitious and inclusive sector.  There are many entry points and they all lead to a community and  career that delivers real impact for the planet.

Rachel Moir is the Skills Programme Manager at Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC)