It has been found that incidence of fake degrees and certificates is the highest in the life sciences sector and companies are facing difficulties in appointing qualified manpower. To overcome these issues, Indian pharma and academic associations have formed a new body called Life Sciences Sector Skill Development Council (LSSSDC) to streamline the process and avoid misconduct. Ranjit Madan, Chief Executive Officer, LSSSDC shares details of its working mechanisms and vision, with Usha Sharma
The National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) has been mandated to set up Sector Skills Councils for addressing the skill shortfalls in various sectors, including the life sciences sector. Tell us more about it and the steps it would implement?
NSDC is a public private partnership (PPP), a first-of-its-kind model with 51 per cent from private and 49 per cent public holding. It has been mandated to skill 150 million people by the year 2022. A key vehicle for delivery of this is the Sector Skill Councils (SSCs), which are being set up to address the issue of skill shortfalls in key sectors. The Life Sciences Sector Skill Development Council (LSSSDC), set up by NSDC, in co-operation with CII and Satish Reddy, Chairman, Dr Reddy’s Lab as its Chairman, was registered as a society in May 2014. It will focus on skill deficiencies in pharma, bio-technology and clinical research sectors. The skill shortfall issue is especially relevant for the life sciences sector. In a recent study, it has been found that incidence of fake degrees and certificates, is the highest in the life sciences sector, with about 35 per cent found indulging in this fraud. With this background, LSSSDC aims to certify skilling of approximately 3.4 million over a 10 year period. It will do so, by first and foremost, mapping all job roles (estimated to be around 100), across functional areas and levels in the life sciences sector, and developing National Occupation Standards (NOSs) for each of the roles, with inputs from industry. This exercise has commenced, and NOSs for four roles relating to medical sales representative, production chemist, quality assurance chemist, quality control chemist have already been put up on websites of NSDC and LSSSDC, undergoing further industry validation. A fifth, related to machine operator for tablet and capsule manufacture is almost completed. NOSs for balance roles are expected to be developed within February, 2015. The next steps in the skilling process involve, accreditation of suitable ‘Training Partners’, helping them dovetail curriculum for specific courses related to job roles, so that they mesh with the NOSs, helping conduct ‘Training of Trainers’ with the aid of Master Trainers (inducted from industry), and finally certification of skilled trainees by the council, with help from assessors (again possibly with industry experience).
Which major associations have been involved in the formation of the LSSSDC?
LSSSDC was set up in May 2014, and founding members of its Governing Body had IDMA, BDMA, Pharmexcil, ABLE and ACRO from the industry and , NIPER and DIPSAR from the academia. Thereafter, other major industry associations viz IPA, OPPI and CIPI have come on board. Today, we can proudly say that all major associations in the life sciences sector are on our governing body. CIPI is the largest association representing small scale sector. For inclusivity, it was important to have this association, so that inputs and viewpoints of small scale sector are taken into account in all that we do.
What is the objective behind setting up the LSSSDC? How will it function and what are its mechanisms?
The life sciences sector faces a significant skill gap across levels, in both qualitative and quantitative terms. The LSSSDC seeks to address this by focusing on sector-specific competencies/skills, quality assurance through accreditation of the skills acquired by trainees, curriculum development for the skills training, qualification framework and setting of standards and benchmarks, facilitating recruitment and placement of trained and skilled workforce, and ultimately becoming a repository of information. It will do so by adopting a quality focused, comprehensive, scalable and sustainable model which has full support and involvement of industry. In executing this, it will rely heavily on its governing body which has members from all major associations in Life Sciences IPA, OPPI, IDMA, BDMA, CIPI, Pharmexcil, ABLE and ACRO, Academia—NIPER and DIPSAR. It will also leverage its principle stakeholders, including CII and NSDC and its partners, such as KPMG (inducted as a ‘Knowledge Partner’). LSSSDC will first focus on the five major pockets of concentration of Life Sciences industry- Baddi in HP, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad/Gujarat, Mumbai/Vapi/Vadodara cluster and Bangalore. Activity in Baddi and Hyderabad has already been kicked off through a seminar and a workshop respectively, and potential ‘Industry Partners’ identified in each. Objective will be to develop, with support of industry partners, an entire eco- system (comprising training partners, master trainers, trainers and assessors) conducive to skilling—in and around each pocket of concentration.
Does this type of initiatives exist in other countries too?
Countries such as Germany, the UK, Australia and Switzerland recognised the importance of skill development a long time ago and this initiative is well entrenched there. In fact, Germany and Switzerland owe much of their success of competitiveness and being leaders in manufacturing in specific sectors due to this initiative.
How will the funds be raised for accelerating the LSSSDC’s programme and by when will it become self-sufficient?
LSSSDC, like other SSCs, is a ‘not for profit’ organisation. Funding for the first three years will be through grant from NSDC, as also contribution from the industry, via the mentioned associations. Thereafter, the council aims to become self- sufficient through revenue flows, triggered from accreditations, assessments and certifications.
Which are the portfolios in the industry that face maximum issues due to scarcity of qualified workforce and why?
First of all let us put things in perspective, life sciences, comprising pharma, bio technology and clinical research, is a highly fragmented sector with estimated over 10,000 units, bulk of which are in the small and unorganised sector. It is also highly globally connected, with over 50 per cent of revenue coming from exports, a high volume of imports, and an increasingly visible outsourcing trend. The challenges and complexities related to skill shortfalls are expected to vary greatly depending on the type of skills (hard and soft), size and type of organisation (small/ unorganised, Indian/MNC), the sub- sector, functional area in question, and indeed the region of location. Just as an example, skill needs and shortfalls in MNC’s may be more skewed in favour of sales and marketing (as opposed to manufacturing/ R&D in Indian firms); small and unorganised sector may have many job roles intertwined and combined into one, whereas large firms may have clearly segregated job roles. For the more technical roles, the level of technical skills of those hired in Gujarat and Maharashtra may be higher than say in North, whereas, the same variance may not hold when it comes to softer skills. Further details relating to the question posed, especially with above backdrop, are rather sketchy at this point. A comprehensive skill gap study needs to be done and is currently under way with the help of KPMG. This is expected to be completed in the next few months. What we can say with certainty is that job roles where volume is highest are more likely to be in pharma sector at the entry level (bottom of the pyramid), in functional areas relating to manufacturing and QC, R&D and sales and marketing.
Reasons for skill shortfalls are many, complex and interrelated. These include, absence of job standards and benchmarks, inadequate infrastructural facilities (so vital in a manufacturing sector such as life sciences), inadequate funding to set up skilling facilities, shortage of trainers, as also rather low interest on part of students to make a career in Life Sciences sector.
How will LSSSDC recognise the people enrolled for the programme? How will it prove effective to them in their professional career?
LSSSDC will be responsible for keeping a check on quality right through the ‘skilling chain’, including crucially, certifying those skilled for specific job roles. The expectation is that the industry will recognise the difference in quality (skills) between those certified by LSSSDC and others, which will then promote hiring of the former ie those certified by the Council. The fact that we have all the major associations represented on our governing body, should enable message to percolate in the sector through ‘word of mouth’. One of the advantages of a paradigm shift from a ‘supply determined’ system as exists at this point in the country (where students get diplomas/degrees, and upon joining the workforce in any sector, are found wanting in skills), to a ‘demand/industry – led’ model, where requirements of each job are detailed in the form of ‘Occupation Standards’, is that anybody certified by a skill council, can hope to seamlessly move not just vertically, but across functions, and indeed sectors. All that a person would need to do is bridge the gap between NOSs that he or she has already attained, and requirements of where the person aims to get to. And this can then be done through either on the job training (OJT) or undergoing ‘skilling courses’ or both.
What is the average spend of individual pharma companies on employees’ training programmes? How will LSSSDC help pharma companies reduce this amount?
On the average an organisation in life sciences is estimated to be expending 50 per cent of CTC of a person hired –on skilling/ re-skilling, as also associated costs of attrition, low productivity. Through the processes outlined above, LSSSDC expects this to be vastly reduced.
Share details of LSSSDC’s curriculum and what are the priority areas?
As shared, we have just started a detailed study on skill gaps leading to development of NOSs. In between, there will be a series of processes involved in the skilling chain. We will also aim to have a robust LMIS in place in three years time and Academies of Excellence (for example one with a pool of ‘Master Trainers’), and possibly having an annual function to recognise and award the best trainers and master trainers. The process should though culminate in, and this is crucial, a set of job ready – skilled workforce who should get employed in the industry. The industry must support this so that the model remains strong.
In terms of priorities, there are three areas we must be very cognisant of
- Quality: Recognising that cost of errors in this sector is not just in financial terms, but impacts human life. This is highest priority
- Inclusivity: Knowing that almost 90 per cent of the units in this fragmented sector are in the small and unorganised sector, and so that we can help those from rural settings to find gainful employment at the ‘bottom of the pyramid’
- Global standards: Realising that this is a highly globally interconnected sector, the benchmarks and standards, at least for specific job roles, should be international
How many skilled force will you be able to give to the industry in the next two to three years?
We aim to provide certified skilled professional of around 10,000, across functional areas/ levels, over next three years.
What is the vision of the LSSSDC?
The vision of the council is to create a robust and vibrant eco-system for development of a skilled workforce matching globally recognised standards for life sciences sector in India, benefiting all stakeholders. This, whilst ensuring a sustained supply of skilled workforce, across functional areas and levels, will provide meaningful livelihood opportunities to a multitude of people in pharma, biotechnology and clinical research space in India.