I am proud of the unique and innovative partnership between Fife College and NHS Lothian that is helping create the laboratory workforce of tomorrow and narrow the skills gap within the Life Sciences industry.

The award-winning School for Health, Science and Technology (SHST) in St John’s Hospital, Livingston, delivers training and education programmes in a real-world laboratory setting in a purpose-built training facility.

Courses available at the SHST include Modern Apprenticeships for a range of large national employers, as well as SMEs. In fact, the model of delivery – which can be tailored for each individual employers’ needs – has proven so successful that the School has now expanded beyond Life Sciences to train staff in Healthcare and Digital Skills from both within NHS Lothian and externally at the SHST.

The SHST offers opportunities for those already in the Life Sciences industry to upskill and keep up-to-date with emerging lab techniques. From its laboratory in St John’s, the SHST also provides school pupils with an opportunity to take their first steps towards a career in the industry through the delivery of a range of bespoke senior phase programmes aimed at school pupils within West Lothian schools. This is the same course that the College runs for Fife pupils and develops competence in lab skills essential for employment.

Life Sciences in Scotland employs over 37,000 people, across 700 organisations. The industry contributes around £4.2bn to the Scottish economy each year.

And the industry is expanding. Since 2010, life sciences organisations in Scotland have increased staff levels by 13%. However, there is a need for more staff entering the field – the life sciences sector is predicted to grow by 15% up to 2027.

The training facilities at the School for Health, Science and Technology helps to ensure that graduates have the laboratory skills they need to support ground-breaking research across the life sciences sector.

The SHST was born from the Modern Apprenticeship (MA) Level 3 programme in Laboratory and Associated Technical Activities (LATA), set up by NHS Lothian and Fife College. In June 2014, the College signed a formal partnership with NHS Lothian to establish what was then called the ‘Science Training School’ (STS) in Livingston.

The partnership was designed to provide more formal career progression for staff at support worker level to align with the national initiative ‘Modernising Scientific Careers’, which ensures that all staff are able to articulate and progress within their nominated career in the healthcare science sector.

Since 2014, the reputation and success of the SHST has grown as employers from the private sector have recognised the benefits of the learning experience the facility provides. We have secured training agreements with other public sector organisations, local businesses, and universities. We now have over 60 apprentices from public and private sectors who attend the School. Further industrial experts from other companies have realised the benefits of these programmes.

The SHST also recently won the top award in the ‘Scottish Government Award for Driving Improvement, Delivering Results’ category at the 2019 Advancing Healthcare Awards. The award recognises the achievements of the SHST in giving students to gain on-the-job experience while addressing current and future skills shortages in Scotland.

The partnership has also expanded to include the University of Edinburgh. This has allowed the SHST to further develop its courses. It recently saw the first students enrolled into the new unique part-time Biomedical Laboratory Science (Professional Practice) degree programme.

I’m delighted that the School has proved to be so popular – both with our partners at NHS Lothian and employers – and I’m excited to now be expanding the model to Healthcare and beyond. Working in St John’s has been fantastic – it’s allowed us to adapt our teaching techniques to reflect current standards in industry and benefit from voluntary lab teaching from professionals from across the Life Sciences spectrum. We are also able to bring back best practice from the School to our full-time courses at the College.

One of the driving forces behind the SHST is Sarah Smith, Education, Training and Development Lead for NHS Lothian. Talking about the SHST. She said “Working in partnership with Fife College has enabled NHS Lothian to develop bespoke academic programmes to enable our staff to progress within their career. We have been able to influence delivery and curriculum content to ensure that methodologies are current and reflect contemporary practices within the laboratories.”

For more information, contact Dr Yvonne Bayne, Curriculum Manager: Science at Fife College, on yvonnebayne@fife.ac.uk