The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has unsettled the world in ways not thought possible before. Since the outbreak in Wuhan in the Hubei province of China, the infection spread rapidly engulfing swathes of population across the globe. Healthcare and medicines have become the lifeblood for all nations looking for ways to fight the pandemic. As the second-most populous country in the world, India has had to gear itself to stave off the worst of this epidemic and so far we have done a commendable job. The Government has doubled up on its healthcare efforts and our frontline health workers have been working tirelessly. Hundreds of thousands of doctors, nurses, caregivers and other health specialists have been engaged in the isolation, monitoring and treatment of the infected. They have proven to be the corona warriors who have led from the forefront in the fight against COVID-19.
The virus has also stressed the role of the Life Sciences Sector Skill Development Council (LSSSDC) in readying the country for such outbreaks. Established in 2014 under the aegis of the Skill India Mission by the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) in conjunction with Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), LSSSDC has been instrumental in addressing an acute shortage of skilled workforce in the sector. One of the five priority sectors identified by the Niti Aayog, Life Sciences (Pharma, Biopharma and Clinical Research) employs a workforce of about nine lakh in over 8,000 active manufacturing units, clustered in about a dozen locations.
Since its inception, LSSSDC has focused on developing a reservoir of a skilled workforce spread across manufacturing, quality control, sales & marketing and other verticals. The Council has laid emphasis on three areas to boost life sciences, including organizing skilling for youth at school and college level for different positions as per industry-validated National Occupation Standards. Encouraging apprenticeship and assessment and certification of the employed workforce under the government’s Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) programme are the other two areas.
In five years, LSSSDC has skilled over 35,000 candidates using modern methods of training, like simulation/VR-based modules for high CAPEX manufacturing job roles, made possible through the creation of a pool of around 400 certified trainers. The Council has also enrolled around 8,000 apprentices and certified close to 50,000 already employed workforce. Importantly, LSSSDC has facilitated the placement of over 20,000 candidates across job roles in reputed companies.
The Council has forged close ties with the industry, supporting about 500 organisations in various areas of skilling. It has recently signed an agreement with Pharmacy Council of India (PCI) under which, starting the next academic session, select skilling modules will be introduced as electives in the final year in colleges. Alongside, students in pharma colleges and universities will be encouraged to take up an apprenticeship. The Council is also working closely with the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) to boost the number of skilled workforce for the Biotechnology sector. A number of prominent pharma companies including Zydus, Microlabs, Macleods and Granules have joined hands with LSSSDC to set up ‘Centres of Excellence’ in major clusters.
All this with a vision of skill advancement in the sector.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has made huge demands from the pharma sector. With 11 per cent global market share by volume, India is regarded as a Pharmacy to the World: 50 per cent of the sector’s current revenue of $38 billion comes from exports. A high percentage of Active Pharma Ingredients (APIs) comes from China. A sharp rise in price and shrinking of the supply chain has led to a jostling among Indian API producers into finding short- and long-term measures to raise capacity and minimise dependence on low-priced Chinese imports. With the decision to lift exports in certain categories of medicines like hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) used in the fight against the novel coronavirus, companies have maximised capacity to meet global demand. Select Indian pharma and biopharma players are also working on possible vaccines/solutions to the epidemic.
Post lockdown, we can expect this play-out to continue with bulk drug manufacturers going flat out to maximise the output of APIs, companies involved in manufacturing medicines such as HCQ, producing to capacity, and firms with R&D base continuing to emphasise research and then rushing to tie up with any overseas entities that may be the first ones to find a suitable vaccine. Companies will want to supplement the workforce especially in roles like medical sales representatives and supply chain personnel. Telesales activity will also get a boost. With the Government’s thrust on Make in India and companies reviewing their China strategy and recent announcements under Ayushman Bharat, on API and medical device package, and Biotechnology Cluster initiatives— the sector is set to grow.
With a vision for the future LSSSDC is well poised to meet the requirements of the industry. A six-point agenda has been laid out to cater to the demand, including leveraging new-age technology to boost skilling with scale and speed, deepening engagement with industry and academia, and helping build capacity to ramp up the Indian pharma sector, focused on meeting future healthcare demand. This will be accomplished on the back of a strong and robust training framework the bar for which has just been raised higher.