Work-study programs: a springboard to biomanufacturing jobs?
Wallonia is developing new work-study programs to enable students to learn biomanufacturing both through teaching and experience in the workplace.
Wallonia develops work-study programs to facilitate students’ access to biomanufacturing professions
Wallonia is developing new work-study programs to enable students to learn biomanufacturing both through teaching at school and practical training in the workplace. In this interview, Rose-May Delrue, Talent Advisor at essenscia, the sector federation for the chemical and life sciences industry, explains what a work-study program is and how it will play a key role in the biopharmaceutical sector's recruitment strategies in the coming years.
A program that creates a direct link between learning and career opportunities
"Work-study is a teaching method that enables students to acquire skills in two different places: the school and the company. Students alternate the development and acquisition of practical and theoretical skills, which are validated by the diploma awarded by higher education.
Work-study programs enable us to attract students with the ability and desire to learn, first by practicing various job contents, and then by assimilating the related theories.
Working in a company also represents a real opportunity for students to identify, at an early stage, the opportunities that exist for them in the sector, and to assess the extent to which these opportunities correspond to their expectations and their vision of work. Work-study programs enable students to make informed career choices.
This is an important factor, since people who decide to take a bachelor's or master's degree in chemistry and life sciences do so because they are interested in the subject, not because of the career opportunities open to them at the end of their course", explains Rose-May Delrue.
An asset for recruitment and CSR strategies
"For companies, work-study programs represent a means of investing in the deployment of a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy by attracting a wider range of profiles. From a recruitment point of view, work-study programs are becoming a strategic asset, both in terms of employer brand and talent attraction and retention", says Rose-May.
"Integrating new generations of workers up to 3 years before they enter the job market offers several advantages to companies. On an individual basis, the company will strengthen the attractiveness of its employer brand and image among young candidates. It will also build up a pool of trained talent from which it can draw to support its growth and development. Thanks to the complementarity between theory and practice, and between the two learning environments (school and company), work-study programs give companies a fresh perspective and the opportunity to "take their noses out of the water", question themselves and become more innovative. A dynamic that, in the long run, represents a powerful lever for retention and competitiveness.
At sector level, we can see that companies are increasingly aware of the role they have to play in the evolution of the job market. They know that work-study programs don't systematically lead to students being recruited by them, but by training them in the skills the sector needs to remain competitive, they are contributing to a pooling of skills, particularly in the field of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics", Rose-May points out.
An additional link in the Walloon biomanufacturing training ecosystem
"In the Life Sciences sector, biomanufacturing activities account for 70% of vacancies (compared with 15% for R&D). However, higher education establishments do not always offer curricula specific to the skills required to be directly operational in biomanufacturing. To acquire these skills (such as GMP standards), graduates either train "on the job", within the company that recruited them, or go through a sectoral training center. In this context, work-study is an excellent compromise. However, things don't stop with the end of a work-study contract. The Life Sciences sector is changing and evolving rapidly. This means that the people who work in it need to regularly update their knowledge and skills throughout their careers.
To support the professional development of students, jobseekers and employees in the sector, Belgium is in the process of creating a fully integrated continuing training ecosystem. Its aim is to enable companies to meet the challenges of the future with agility and speed, so as to remain competitive. This ecosystem is based on collaboration between academia and industry (notably via work-study programs), but also on the aptaskil training center (to train biomanufacturing operators and technicians) and the European Biotech Campus (to train current and future workers in the skills required for a Biomanufacturing 4.0 environment)", describes Rose-May.
Some key figures on work-study programs in the Life Sciences sector in Belgium
- More than a dozen Master's programs (duration of work-study program: 2 years).
- 2 bachelor's degree programs open since 2022 (duration of work-study program: 2.5 years).
- Nearly 1,700 students have completed a work-study program since 2020
- Students spend 50% of their entire work-study period on the job.