Collaboration is the foundation needed to develop Scotland’s future Life Sciences skill set

Last year, Scotland’s National Strategy for Economic Transformation (NSET) identified both the bioeconomy and life sciences as sectors of major opportunity.

Speaking on 29 November, at The Scotsman’s Life Science conference, Dr Claire Garden* officially launched the report from the recent Life and Chemical Sciences Skills Summit.

“This sector is so effective in driving economic growth, and so important for the future prosperity of our country,” Dr Garden told the audience.

The sector can also play a major role in achieving the Scottish Government’s ambitions for fair and green economic growth.

“The Life and Chemical Sciences sector employs about 1.1% of the Scottish workforce but contributes 4.4% of Scotland’s total economy (GVA),” added Dr Garden.The sector is also on track to increase its contribution to the Scottish economy to a total of £8bn by 2025, and Scotland’s Life Sciences sector is world-leading, partly because of its highly skilled and internationally recognised workforce.”

But what skills will be needed in future?

The first Life and Chemical Sciences Skills Summit was successfully led and hosted by Dr Garden in September 2023, with support from SULSA (Scottish Universities Life Sciences Alliance) and Skills Development Scotland.

“We brought together 80 representatives from industry, tertiary education, skills providers, and other key stakeholders, to collectively address two priority areas: the work-readiness of new entrants, and collaborative working between industry and tertiary education.”

Themes of consolidation, collaboration and challenge emerged, and discussions identified 15 recommendations that could all be grouped under two clear needs:

  • A centralised umbrella skills organisation for Life Sciences.
  • A sector skills platform for Scotland – comprising both physical and digital spaces to bring together and signpost all skills assets.

“Together, the organisation and platform would facilitate the kind of collaborative, creative work that we know will be required to meet the challenges set out by The Entrepreneurial Campus, Green Skills, and Digital and Data challenges set by government.”

The sector’s vision

There are two key strategies that set the vision for the sector’s future. First, the Life Sciences Strategy for Scotland 2025, which aims to make Scotland the location of choice for Life Sciences businesses, researchers, healthcare professionals and investors, while increasing Life Sciences contribution to Scotland’s economic growth.

The second is The National Plan for Industrial Biotechnology. It states that Scotland will become the go-to destination to incubate and grow bioeconomy businesses to scale; and to manufacture products and services desired by consumers and end-users that will facilitate the nation’s net zero 2045 ambition.

At the centre of both are the people and skills working in the sector.

“We know we need a skilled workforce, but the question of ‘which skills’ can be challenging,” said Dr Garden. “Businesses are telling us that the sector increasingly needs people to have multidisciplinary skills that combine scientific and non-scientific skill sets, such as: meta skills; digital and data; automation, AI and robotics; quality control and regulatory; green skills; commercial skills; and entrepreneurship.”

“At Edinburgh Napier, we are focussing now on consolidating our entrepreneurial offer to students, business, and our community: for example, through a Women’s Enterprise Hub; collaboration with businesses to incorporate more innovation challenge-based opportunities for our students; and an educator’s toolkit.

“We were delighted when the University was recently placed second in Scotland in the Entrepreneurial Impact Ranking, presented in the ‘Gateways to Growth Report’ by Octopus Ventures.

Closing with a call to action to all stakeholders across the sector, Dr Garden said: “It’s time now to consolidate and openly share our skills assets, and we must find smarter and more creative ways to continue to collaborate if we are to meet the challenges we face.”

* Dr Claire Garden is Associate Professor of Life Science Education and Head of Learning and Teaching in the School of Applied Sciences at Edinburgh Napier University.


report from the recent Life and Chemical Sciences Skills Summit

digital-economy-skills-action-plan.pdf (

green-jobs-in-scotland-report_final-4.pdf (


Education is key for a thriving Life and Chemical Sciences sector in Scotland

The Life and Chemical Sciences Sector in Scotland continues to face challenges in developing a highly skilled workforce and an awareness from young people about what careers in the sector are available. In response, Edinburgh Napier University, supported by the Scottish Universities Life Science Alliance (SULSA) and Skills Development Scotland (SDS) hosted the Scottish Life and Chemical Sciences Skills Summit on Thursday 28 September at Craiglockhart Campus.

The aim of the summit focuses on solutions in two priority areas: (1) work readiness skills of new entrants and (2) collaboration between industry and academia.

The summit opened with Dr. Claire Garden, Associate Professor and Head of Teaching and Learning, School of Applied Sciences at Edinburgh Napier University and Chair of the SULSA Skills Committee giving opening remarks honing in over a decade of work in the life science skills space. She has brought this summit to life bringing together approximately 70 individuals comprising of industry from the life and chemical sciences sector, college and university staff, innovation centres, and wider public sector agencies.

Dr. Claire Garden

Mr. Ivan McKee MSP delivered the keynote speech for the summit to a room of widely attentive and keen professionals throughout his remarks. McKee noted, that the Life and Chemical Sciences sector is identified in the UK Innovation Strategy and is a priority area that Scotland can be competitive in internationally. McKee is also a member of the Cross-Party Group in the Scottish Parliament on Life Sciences and showed his enthusiasm for the potential of what the sector can do for Scotland’s economy. McKee stated that “a strong skills pipeline is essential to support Scotland’s fast-growing life and chemical science sector. I’m delighted to see the work of SULSA, bringing Universities, colleges, industry, and government agencies together at today’s skill summit to take forward concrete collaborative actions to address this need”.

The education system (including colleges, universities, training providers, and work-based learning/apprenticeships) is critical for the industry to retain and attract talent in the sector in Scotland. The solutions discussed in breakout sessions and workshops will mark the first step to influencing what comes next in the industry. According to Dr. Claire Garden, “the Summit was a resounding success where clear themes emerged. Work is already underway to address skills needs across the sector, however, there is a requirement for further support to share them in a visible way. There was also a clear desire for further opportunities to collaborate on targeted solutions.  Further details will be outlined in our report later in the year.”