SINGAPORE: A new professional conversion programme (PCP) has been launched to help mid-career professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) join the biomedical science sector, which is still seeing growth despite the pandemic-induced economic downturn.
The 18-month PCP for Advanced Biopharmaceuticals Manufacturing Professionals and Executives is set to benefit 300 PMETs over the next year, said the Economic Development Board (EDB) and Workforce Singapore (WSG) in a joint press release on Wednesday (Aug 26).
The new scheme will replace the Attach-and-Train programme for biologics manufacturing – which was launched in November 2018 and has helped 185 people enter the sector so far – and go beyond biologics manufacturing to include specialisations in pharmaceuticals manufacturing, and cell and gene therapy.
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The wider scope will help equip trainees with skills to take on new roles in the field of biopharmaceutical manufacturing, such as biotechnologist and production engineer, the agencies said.
Trainees under the PCP must be Singaporeans or permanent residents aged 21 and above.
They will undergo full-time training, which comprises three months of classroom training at either Singapore Polytechnic or Temasek Polytechnic, and 15 months of a structured on-the-job training attachment with host companies.
Depending on the availability of job vacancies and their work performance, trainees may be offered full-time positions at the end of the programme, said the agencies. They will receive a training allowance for the duration of the PCP.
Together with another PCP which was rolled out in October 2017 to train mid-career PMETs for roles in the medical technology industry, both schemes are likely to help a total of 450 people embark on new careers in the biomedical science sector over the next three years.
EDB’s senior vice-president of healthcare Goh Wan Yee said the expanded scope of the new PCP will equip Singaporeans with the skills required to capture opportunities in new areas such as small molecule pharmaceuticals while augmenting the existing talent pool.
Echoing this, Ms Julia Ng, group director of the Enterprise Development Group in WSG, encouraged jobseekers to “cast their nets wider, embrace reskilling and (look) beyond the familiar to grasp hold of these opportunities”.
“Together with EDB and our industry partners, we will help them cut through the uncertainties in the new normal by spotlighting sectors with growth potential and accelerating their advancement into these jobs.”
BRIGHT SPOT IN THE ECONOMY
The government agencies, which worked with industry stakeholders as well as two polytechnics on the new scheme, said the move was made in anticipation of the rise in manpower demand in the sector and aims to help local workers capture these opportunities.
Despite the pandemic-induced downturn, the biomedical science sector and its subsectors, including the biopharmaceuticals manufacturing industry, have remained “bright spots of growth and opportunities”, EDB and WSG said.
Official data showed the biomedical manufacturing cluster grew 26.7 per cent in the first half of the year, compared with the same period a year ago.
This is due to a sharp increase in worldwide demand for pharmaceutical and healthcare products amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has accelerated the production of active pharmaceutical ingredients and biological products.
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While quarterly numbers may be volatile, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said the long-term trend for the sector is a positive one, given the strong demand for biomedical products in Asia, especially among the growing middle-income population.
Mr Chan, who was speaking to reporters after a visit to American medical technology firm Becton Dickinson (BD) on Wednesday morning, also said that investments in the biomedical science sector are expected to create more than 1,300 jobs over the next three to five years.
There are now more than 30 leading global companies in the local biomedical sector and biopharmaceutical sector. One of these is BD, which is planning to invest nearly S$180 million to ramp up its operations in Singapore over the next few years.
Around S$80 million will go into building a new facility at its current manufacturing site in Tuas. This new facility will be manufacturing the company’s blood culture media product, which is being produced in the United States at the moment, said a BD representative during a showcase at the company on Wednesday.
Together with the addition of other new product lines, the investments are expected to create more than 300 new jobs in the next few years, said Mr Chan.
Such investments by overseas firms also benefit local small- and medium-sized enterprises, the minister added.
One example is Omnimold - a local firm that specialises in plastic injection mould making and is now developing next-generation moulds for BD’s medical products, including a rapid test kit which could churn out COVID-19 test results in about 17 minutes.
"WE NEED TO BE ADAPTABLE, RESPONSIVE"
The use of technology in one sector will also translate into opportunities in other parts of the economy, said Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran, who was also at the company visit on Wednesday.
Citing BD as an example, he said Singapore is an “important centre” from which the company manages its cybersecurity needs.
“I think this is an example of the nexus that we see between digitalisation as an endeavor in its own right, but also how it is impinging on all sectors of the economy. That results in new opportunities being created,” he said.
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Noting that there are about 18,000 work opportunities available in the information and communications technology sector as part of the SGUnited Jobs and Skills package, he added: "So it speaks to the fact that there are possibilities, and we need to be adaptable and responsive to these - get the requisite training and participate in them.”
The minister said the TechSkills Accelerator initiative administered by the Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore will aim to identify and place another 1,800 Singaporeans in tech-related jobs in the next year or so.
The initiative has placed about 6,600 Singaporeans in technology jobs across the economy over the last four years or so, according to Mr Iswaran.