Bridging the skills gap: Digital approaches to lifelong learning

November 15, 2021

Praxis, an exciting partnership between LearnSci and LGC promises to deliver novel learning solutions by preparing graduates to embrace the opportunities of tomorrow with a lifelong learning approach, whilst supporting the aims of the industry-led Community for Analytical Measurement Science (CAMS) initiative. Embedding the skills required by the life sciences sector is essential for the next generation of STEM graduates, for realising innovation opportunities as well as maintaining excellence in the field. However, formalised training in STEM areas is time-consuming and costly for organisations so it is often focused solely on meeting regulatory or accreditation requirements, rather than more general professional development. Fortunately, digital learning platforms offer affordable and flexible training solutions, by allowing users to learn new skills in a more engaging and dynamic manner they can embed and refresh existing learning. What’s more, these platforms can connect and consolidate information in a way that reading textbooks or Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) don’t.

Businesses employing science graduates need to bridge the skills gap

The UK’s National Measurement Laboratory (NML) for chemical and bio-measurement, hosted at LGC, is well-informed on both the regulatory landscape and the skills required to support innovation and growth in the life sciences. The NML at LGC runs a range of training courses for measurement scientists and has produced many training resources to support the development of laboratory skills. By assessing the knowledge and abilities of new graduate employees, LGC recognises that certain key areas, such as critical thinking and practical laboratory skills are not always adequately addressed by undergraduate science training, despite being fundamental to wide-ranging science-related jobs. LearnSci spoke with Dr Julian Braybrook, Vicki Barwick, and Katherine Courtney from the NML at LGC to discuss novel approaches to training for STEM applications of the future.

The challenge of delivering training in a laboratory setting

Training in the workplace offers employees the opportunity to advance their careers and allows businesses to stay ahead of the curve. But this is both costly and time-consuming for organisations, so for some life science companies, training is adapted to end-goals, driven primarily by accreditation and regulatory needs. It’s not surprising that training related to core quality assurance issues such as method validation would be prioritised over non-mandatory ‘nice-to-have’ training. In addition, the practicalities of traditional face-to-face training which takes staff away from laboratories and directly impacts the day-to-day workload can be a particular issue for smaller organisations. The format of ‘on-the-job’ training can also be a sticking point with employees losing momentum when asked to trawl through SOPs or other documents.

Recognising that individuals may benefit from more interactive approaches, LGC was keen to tailor their training provision to different communities. Learning management systems (LMS) provide a flexible platform for training and a format with which digitally native younger graduates are familiar. It’s this balance of great content in a dynamic setting that allows sometimes ‘dry’ content to be more easily assimilated and retained.

LGC and LearnSci partnership: Digital solutions can bridge the skill gap

With a view to updating their training resources on key laboratory skills, LGC reviewed materials and found that while the content was still relevant, the format of some of their materials was dated. Identifying that training delivery needs to evolve to meet rapidly changing industry needs, LGC sought a new approach; instead of re-recording videos, they explored using e-learning platforms with the accessibility and scalability to support ongoing programmes interactively.

At the same time, LearnSci were keen to extend their reach beyond undergraduate resources, which were growing steadily. Assessing their joint resources, LearnSci and LGC decided to develop new e-Learning assets for a STEM industry workplace; this blended approach  ensures that the new resources work alongside practical training to reduce the time pressure on managers. The LGC-LearnSci partnership is significant as it also ties in with the goals of CAMS, which include promoting world-class analytical measurement science training, research and innovation. CAMS comprises both industrial and academic members who both contribute to and derive benefits from participating in this diverse network.

The LearnSci and LGC partnership will develop e-learning materials which will:

  • Improve the quality of analytical measurements by providing training on core practical skills
  • Provide evidence of competence
  • Improve business performance through increased efficiency and measurement accuracy

Supporting lifelong learning

Continuing with their ethos of lifelong learning, LGC is keen for employees of all levels to use these e-Learning resources and recognises their value throughout highly technical and specialised commercial STEM research, including in the development of new products and services. Moreover, as the biosciences become more collaborative and multidisciplinary, online platforms can help individuals to pivot during their careers, enabling flexibility in areas that straddle disciplines, such as genomics and exciting new applications in bioengineering.

While LGC will continue to provide face-to-face training, the development of modular online elements will support laboratories in developing their laboratory skills training programmes and also allow employees to follow-up, test and refresh their learning. Additionally, because materials can be more easily updated in a digital format, developments in best practice or changes to regulatory requirements can be quickly addressed ensuring that the training content remains current.

Bridging the skills gap in graduate roles is a challenge in the life sciences sector and one that can be met with training that is tailored to the individual’s needs. LMS bring training materials into the 21st century and ensure accessibility and scalability – essential for growth in the life sciences. The current COVID-19 crisis has obviously necessitated a shift to e-learning.  Now − more than ever − access to high-quality e-learning is essential for the future development of the life sciences sector.

The exciting partnership between LearnSci and LGC represents a forward-looking approach to lifelong learning that will enable employees to confidently take up exciting opportunities presented to them in a multidisciplinary STEM environment, as well as improve staff retention and improve the efficiency of company training programmes.

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