A recent “Life Sciences Careers Insight Day” paid dividends for a group of budding young scientists at the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult’s (CGT Catapult) newly opened Skills and Training Laboratories in Stevenage. The event was led by the Advanced Therapies Apprenticeship Community (ATAC), and we joined up with the young participants on the day, as they took their first steps into a possible career in the advanced therapies sector…

On November 22nd, we opened the doors of our state-of-the-art training laboratories, based in the futuristic surroundings of the Stevenage Bioscience Campus, to thirty-eight 16-19 year-olds, representing 20 schools across Hertfordshire.

The “Careers Insight Day”, created by the Skills team at the CGT Catapult in partnership with HFL Education* (formally Herts for Learning), offered a unique opportunity for school-aged students to learn about, working in the field of advanced cell and gene therapies. Year 12 pupils turned up in high numbers to see if it was a route to a potential future career they could aspire to.

“I came today not knowing what to expect”, explained one female student we spoke to. “I am now seriously considering a career in life sciences, whereas before I was only thinking about it. I feel educated in the different areas and what they achieve to be able to think of this as a potential career. It really opened my eyes to the range of treatments within cell and gene therapies”. Her friend agreed, arguing that the more choice and opportunity he has, the higher the chances of career success. “It’s clear there are many different opportunities and ways of getting into this industry, indeed there seem to be many pathways to success in the life sciences sector, which are very rewarding. I learnt a lot more about apprenticeships and post A-level opportunities that I didn’t know. Apprenticeships can take you equally as far as degrees and you can branch into science-based careers. This shows me how available and beneficial scientific apprenticeships can be”.

Talking of apprenticeships, the Advanced Therapies Apprenticeships Community (ATAC) and the national Advanced Therapy Skills and Training Network (ATSTN) are initiatives set up by the CGT Catapult, and both are having a hugely positive impact on learners and employees across the wider advanced therapies ecosystem. The future of the sector will rely on the capability, capacity and sustainability of its emerging workforce – with school and university leavers at its heart – and both ATAC and ATSTN are helping to achieve this by aiming to grow skill sets and provide future talent for UK employers.

Bearing any future career in mind, it is no surprise that one of the most common questions to come up was “what is a typical day in the life of a cell and gene therapy scientist”, and there was ample opportunity for those attending to get their teeth into this burning question. First up was a showcase of actual careers in the life sciences/advanced therapies sector, from “ scientist” and “quality control analyst” to “validation engineer”, the list of exciting roles created a buzz of anticipation amongst the students; this was followed by a Q&A panel with current and past apprentices plus workshops in “How to write a personal statement”, “Brand Me’​s”, ”Science for non-scientists”, and “Quality Control microbiology”; a tour of the Skills and Training Laboratories ​ensued and then – possibly the most popular element of the day – an exploration of the AR/VR (augmented/virtual reality) headsets, allowing the wearer an invaluable opportunity to experience first-hand what it’s like to work and process operations in a laboratory setting.

“Wow! The knowledge I gained today about Life Sciences has totally changed my views” enthused one student after trying out the headsets. “Life Sciences has so many applications in the world that I never knew about. I also got to see the day-to-day responsibilities of people working in this field, plus insights into the types of jobs and what people generally do in this sector.”

The proof is, of course, in the pudding and while 70% of attendees had no prior knowledge of the sector before visiting us for the careers insight day, an incredible 63% said they were “very likely” to apply for an early careers opportunity after attending.

*HFL Education (HFL)*, is an award-winning provider of products and services to schools and educational settings within and outside Hertfordshire.They rightly believe that every young person, through access to a great education, should be able to realise their potential, regardless of where they live or their circumstances.