Biocon Academy has been conducting online courses since its inception, and this helped them achieve positive results even during the COVID-19 pandemic. SS Easwaran, Academic Dean, Biocon Academy talks about its courses and learning processes in his campus to deliver an industry-ready talent pool for the bio/pharma sectors, with Usha Sharma
Give us insights about Biocon Academy’s experiential learning process. How does it benefit the biotech and pharma industry?
Experiential learning is all about allowing a person to learn from his own experience from the given situation or the context. The experience is not replaceable. Experiential learning provides the learner with an opportunity to make a mistake and learn from the mistake too. In the biotech /pharma world, there is very less possibility of a chance of a learner when he or she is not an employee to learn through experiential learning because the learner is not qualified enough to experiment in the laboratory or manufacturing floor, which is governed by the GMP regulations and also ensures safety to the drug being manufactured there. Therefore, the nearest possible way to provide experiential learning in the pharma space is to allow the learner to be with the people who perform the process and learn how they actually conduct the same.
This type of experiential learning when supported with complete hands-on training in a non-GMP environment, it will make the learning complete. This is exactly what is being done at Biocon Academy where the students are allowed to shadow the employees and learn how the experiment/process is conducted and later supported with hands-on training to complete the learning cycle. The candidates who are trained this way are not fresher anymore and organisation who employ these candidate doesn’t have to spend a lot of time in training the candidates before they start delivering.
What are the reasons for unemployment among fresh graduates in the biotech/life sciences sector? How many students pass out each year from different streams of life sciences, i.e. biochemistry, microbiology, etc., as against their placements figures?
Out of the total 172220 science postgraduates who are passing out, 44877 belong to life sciences, excluding the bioengineering stream. Of this, hardly 30 per cent of them are employed in their core areas including industry jobs, academia, research etc. The remaining are either employed in non-core areas or unemployed. One of the major reasons for the unemployment among fresh graduates in biotech / other life science streams is their failure to meet the expectations of the industry with regards to the job. Bio/pharma industries are under tremendous pressure to get high-quality products to the market as fast as possible with the least incurred costs. In this context, fresh graduates are expected to come with some level of application knowledge, which can be quickly turned to process outcomes, avoiding a long training time to make the tire hit the ground.
How is Biocon Academy providing advanced learning and industrial proficiency to students enrolled for different courses?
Biocon Academy works in a four-quadrant model, which helps in imparting industrial proficiency to the students and help them gain meaningful jobs in the sector. The first quadrant includes creating a strong, application-oriented industrial know-how through an application-based curriculum delivered by faculty from best of the universities in the world and India like Keck Graduate Institute- California, BITS-Pilani, and MS Ramaiah-Bangalore. Most of these faculties are working in the industry and teaching, Ex-US FDA and the remaining are oriented in the industry before they start to teach. The second pie is the periodic visits made by the students to the technical departments of Biocon Group of Companies including Production, Quality Control (QC), Quality Assurance (QA), QC Microbiology (QCM), Regulatory Affairs (RA) and Research & Development (R&D) to learn directly from the subject matter experts there. The third piece is the hands-on training that they get in an industry set up in the areas of relevance to the course that they have chosen. The last and the most crucial part is the soft-skills training given by in-house experts and corporate trainers, which make their way from the campus to corporate so easy.
Across the sector, hiring trends are not as promising as it was in the pre-COVID-19 days, what measures are the academy taking to bridge the gap of skill deficiency?
As with any other aspect in the industry, hiring also is not as it was before COVID-19. Generally, industry utilises different route for hiring, which includes lateral hiring, walk-ins, internship conversions, campus hiring, reference from consultancy firms and hiring from training organisations. As there are restrictions around the mobility of the candidates internally and outside of the states, most of the interviews are happening online and the selected candidates are onboarded through an electronic onboarding system. The 16th batch of a course offered at Biocon Academy concluded amidst the COVID crisis. With a track record of 100 per cent placement across 25 batches of all programmes put together, Biocon Academy conducted a first-of-its-kind online placement drive and placed more than 90 per cent of the students of which more than 70 per cent are placed outside of Biocon and remaining in the Biocon Group of companies. In addition to the industry-specific skills they have picked up through the course, the students have acquired the ability to perform in online interviews and gain meaningful employment. Biocon Academy has played a significant role in bridging the technical gap between the academic deliverables and the industry’s expectations. It also addresses the most crucial skill deficiency that generally prevails in the passing out talent pool, namely the ability to communicate what they are capable of.
Since the onset of COVID-19 pandemic, the education system has transformed from offline to online. However, the Biocon Academy has followed online education since its beginning, how has it benefited both, the Institute as well as students?
Biocon Academy has followed the online education platform since 2014 when it started offering technical programmes. The students are made to sit in the class and attend the online classes. That way we can get the best teachers across the globe and also not miss peer learning! From the early onset of COVID-19 in India, Biocon Academy has moved all the programmes online. To make sure that pedagogy is not compromised, Biocon Academy organised functional visits also through the online platform where subject matter experts explained the processes that are conducted in their respective departments. Training partners who conduct the hands-on training also managed it through video conferencing showcasing all operations with all the equipment and processes. This gave the students a near real-life experience to learn from. A combination of functional visits and hands-on training has benefited the students by the way of clearing job interviews and starting their careers in the industry. The industry is benefited by getting trained and skilled talent for their workforce.
Did you initiate any training/workshop focussing on COVID-19?
The staff and faculty of Biocon Academy have been conducting a series of webinars, not just focusing on what COVID-19 is but also focusing on how to handle the situation and cope with this stress. This includes LinkedIn articles which the Biocon Academy faculty published and the video messages the deans and faculty have shared, helping the students with ideas to cope with and utilise the current situation to follow their dreams, do online certificate courses and so on. Biocon Academy faculty spoke at various platforms organised by reputed institutions including BITS-Pilani, Amity University, Biotecnika, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies and so on. With the above, Biocon Academy also conducted webinars in association with Karnataka Science and Technology Academy and the Association of Biotechnology Led Enterprises. More than a lakh students and faculty participated in these webinars and got benefited.
How well are the students prepared for the post-COVID-19 impact in the world?
One of the most significant impact post-COVID 19 would be the digital transformation, digitalisation of data and processes enabling remote working. By the virtue of online classes, assignments, case studies and presentations, the students of Biocon Academy are proficient in utilising the online platforms for most of their daily work and learning. They will also be instrumental in bringing the product to the market at the pace expected by the companies owing to the courses that they study including pharma development, national and international regulatory affairs, quality management systems and so on. The key aspect of remote working is the turnaround time which is very important when organisations try to bring a drug or vaccine for such a pandemic disease. With the experience of online learning and following stringent timelines, we are sure that the students of Biocon Academy are well prepared to face the post-COVID-19 era most efficiently.