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UTCs discuss skills shortages with AstraZeneca on visit to pharmaceutical multinational’s HQ

University Technical College leads in health, digital, engineering, and employer engagement discussed skills shortages and training opportunities at pharmaceutical multinational AstraZeneca’s Cambridge headquarters on Tuesday 6th February.

Staff from 18 UTCs across the country were given a tour of AstraZeneca’s state-of-the-art base, The Discovery Centre, which is located on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus alongside its major educational partner, the Cambridge Academy for Science and Technology (CAST) UTC.

A succession of AstraZeneca staff members, including one of their apprentices, then discussed the demand within their industry for skilled workers and the employment opportunities within the company.

UTC staff left the event with a fascinating insight into AstraZeneca’s practices and were also able to build relationships with the company and with others in the UTC community.

AstraZeneca is also considering running a multi-UTC project in the future, which could prove an informative and engaging opportunity for UTC students and staff.

AstraZeneca striving for transparency with schools

The company’s Director of UK STEM and Community Engagement Lisa King opened the day with a general overview of AstraZeneca’s UK operations.

This includes a breadth of facilities across the UK, which includes:

  • A manufacturing site in Macclesfield
  • Another in Speke, Liverpool.
  • Offices in London.
  • The Cambridge site which sits next to Addenbrooke’s Hospital and on the same campus as a Cancer Research facility.

King said that the company was striving to be open and transparent and regularly invited schools to see the facility and find out what happens there.

AstraZeneca is also aiming to be carbon negative by 2030 and The Discovery Centre is powered by geothermal energy.

UTC visitors on their tour of AstraZeneca’s facility

The UTC visitors were then given a tour of the facility, where 2,400 people work and which houses multiple labs, office space, and a STEM Inspiration Lab, where school students can watch scientists working live.

AstraZeneca mostly focuses on raising awareness at Key Stages 2 and 3 currently, so the lab is mostly used by primary school students.

However, CAST students recently used the facility to complete a chromatography experiment and are currently engaged in a challenge being run by AstraZeneca.

The company is also looking to pilot face-to-face work experience with a small group of Year 12 students this year, after seeing success with virtual work experience for Year 10 students.

Covid triggered discussions about how AstraZeneca used digital in health

Baker Dearing Educational Trust Director of Education and Innovation Kate Ambrosi addresses UTC staff

After lunch, AstraZeneca’s Senior Director for Emerging Innovations David Weston addressed the visitors on how the organisation is using technology.

Weston explained that his department was “trying to find ChatGPT three years ahead” of when it became widely-used, by predicting which emerging technologies will have a widespread application in the future.

He explained that the COVID-19 pandemic had been a “trigger for using digital to deliver healthcare”.

Site Engineer and FM Hard Services Lead Simon Willocks then told the audience of the over 173,000 shortfall in STEM. This, he said, equated to 10 unfilled roles per UK business.

With a wide and varied portfolio of work, Willocks said there are “endless opportunities within engineering across AstraZeneca.

“We build things, we maintain things, we make them more efficient.”

But AstraZeneca is not just looking for new employees with the right technical skills, he explained, saying that, “we want the people we take on to be team players,” and to have the correct soft skills.

The point about employing people with a broader skillset was furthered by AstraZeneca’s Director of Apprenticeships Kim Hardman, who said they look for students who have completed enrichment activities.

This could include the Duke of Edinburgh Award, volunteering experience, or taking part in employer-led challenges.

Hardman also told the audience that AstraZeneca was looking at how to map T Levels onto its routes into employment.

Apprentice was not provided with careers information at school

The UTC staff also heard from Amy Smith, a fifth-year oncology laboratory science apprentice with AstraZeneca.

Smith explained that her school had not provided information on apprenticeships as its focus was “uni heavy”.

However, she is now dividing her time between work and distance learning with the University of Kent, from which she is set to graduate this year with a Bachelors of Science degree.