YBhg Dato’ Dr Mohd Nazlee Kamal CEO of BiotechCorp
In Malaysia, and perhaps also true in numerous other countries, the uncertainty of the future looms large over many biotechnology and life sciences graduates as they begin to enter the workforce. Armed with hard-earned degrees and diplomas, what they lack in real working experience are made up with motivation and enthusiasm.
Yet, too many of these young graduates have heard, “You are over qualified or there are too many other graduates”, or perhaps “You do not have enough experience!” and the list goes on. They are young, they have the energy, and they are certainly very creative and highly-educated. As I reckon, could there be insufficient job opportunities to cater to these young graduates? Or could there be other underlying reasons? Nevertheless, something must be done to address the problem of employability.
In the context of human capital development, the National Biotechnology Policy (NBP) has outlined core strategies that is crucial for the advancement of the bio-based industry workforce. In fact, one of the key performance parameters used for tracking the progress of the NBP itself is the number of knowledge job created from biotechnology. What BiotechCorp has put in place under the phases of “Capacity Building” and “Science to Business” were focused mainly on developing local talent. The overall approach was aimed at bridging the gap between the supply of life sciences and biotechnology graduates from local universities and matching it with demand from the bio-based industry.
For example, the Biotechnology Executive Special Training (BeST) Programme are designed to cover the employability aspects of our young graduates by means of equipping them with basic knowledge of real life industry experience. Combining classroom, laboratory and on-the-job training, the six months dedicated programme prepares graduates for entry level positions in biotechnology and life sciences companies, making them more ready in entering the workforce. From 2007 to 2014, a total of 1,926 graduates were trained; with the support coming from 9 public and 5 private universities. More enhancement to the BesT programme are already in the pipeline.
I believe by strengthening the value creation component of the bio-based industry that focuses on the creation of value-added activities, processes and products along the economic value chain, jobs would naturally follow.
In the United States for instance, dedicated biotechnology training funds are allocated as a means to help the unemployed. In 2010, approximately US$20 million was devoted to biotechnology training for displaced workers, including US$5 million for BioOhio in Columbus, Ohio, and another US$5 million for a group of southern California institutions that includes San Diego State University.
The UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is constantly promoting multiple strands of biotechnology education, which include promoting specialized skills set relevant to a particular sub-field; and thus fostering ‘generic’ or soft skills development such as programme management and supporting placement of biotech-trained PhD fellows in government and, eventually, industry positions.
Across the European Union, efforts are being taken to address the challenge of establishing a common platform and training standards for biotech graduates. The outcome is then applied across borders, ensuring standardisation in different nations and institutions. With this framework put in placed, employers know what to expect from prospective employees, and students will have a clearer idea of which courses are best and how they will be received by industry.
Malaysia’s growing bio-based industry will demand highly skilled knowledge workers who have high level of technical competency and with sound business acumen, given that the NBP is now gearing up for its final Phase III of Going Global. To go global, biotechnology presentation and business pitching skills, marketing and selling-off a biotechnology product could as well be the latest biotechnology expertise highly sought after by the industry, especially by our BioNexus companies.
This lead to the conclusion that getting the biotech graduates better at biotechnology takes many different approaches, given that the biotechnology skill set by itself is a moving target, evolving over time. Once, laboratory and bench skills are considered the primary requirement. Now, non-technical communication, business and other soft skills are nearly as important. The ability to present ideas to different audiences across various disciplines becomes even more essential.
Only recently, BiotechCorp participated in Career Blossom 2015 which was held at Washington DC from 17 – 19 April 2015. The event was organized by the United States East Coast Presidential Council (US.EPIC) in collaboration with Education Malaysia and with strategic partners from MARA, JPA, the Embassy of Malaysia in Washington DC and TalentCorp. To the approximately 160 student attendees, the event provided an important platform in showcasing Malaysian organizations including BiotechCorp, Khazanah Nasional and Maybank Group and by making available the opportunities for internships, co-ops and skill development.
Back in Malaysia, BiotechCorp has also participated in the launching of the Industry Centre of Excellence (ICoE), Healthcare Cluster and Innovation Centre located at Universiti Malaysia Perlis (UniMAP). As part of its ongoing industry talent and development initiatives, the establishment of ICoE will encourage and foster the existing linkages between UniMAP and industry in areas of research and developing graduate employability programs, bringing it to a whole greater level. Graced by the Honourable Dato’ Seri Haji Idris Jusoh, Minister of Education II, both UniMAP and the ICoE recognises BiotechCorp’s role and contribution as a key partner in supporting human capital development for the bio-based industry.
Apart from that, several new programmes designed to consolidate BiotechCorp’s current strength and efforts in human capital development are also introduced. The BioCareer Fairs for instance, include the provision of resume clinics, the BioKerjaya Portal, career talks and also on-site recruitment by participating biotechnology and life sciences companies. During the event itself, BiotechCorp also showcased the inaugural BiotechCorp-Novartis National BioCamp Initiative, a collaboration that was formed with Novartis International. Serving as a platform for global exposure and to provide first-hand networking opportunities with industry leaders, the National BioCamp programme will identify highly-deserving local graduates to participate in the International BioCamp 2015 in Basel, Switzerland.
These are certainly important milestones that will serve to benefit the nation’s bio-based sector in the long run, as there are now many more opportunities for our young people to get training at various levels, to refine their skills and eventually to secure employment.
As for BiotechCorp, the organisation will continue to work hand-in-hand with the Ministry of Education, UniMAP as well as Novartis, in moving forward towards empowering and enhancing industry-academia linkages as well as driving strategic partnership in providing platform to equip talents with the necessary skills for the bio-based industry. At the end of the day, getting jobs for our graduates in the industry is all that matters.