Clinical trials specialists: researchers of the future

Clinical Professionals are proud to be part of 2 trailblazer groups working on apprenticeship standards for clinical trials and regulatory affairs – now officially moving forward!

More than 2,500 employers have developed apprenticeship standards, creating new opportunities and specialist on-the-job training programmes for the workforce of the future.

The Clinical Trials Specialist Apprenticeship was the 300th approved standard, which was announced in June.

Developing the standard

The trailblazer group submitted the initial proposal in August 2017 and the final standard was approved just 10 months later.

Hannah Barry, of GSK and chair of the Clinical Trials Specialist Trailblazer group, spoke on progressing the standard from proposal to fully-fledged apprenticeship and what this means for the industry. Hannah said: “The group first met in early 2017, less than 18 months ago. At the time we didn’t know how to create a standard but knew that we wanted to make this happen.”

She continues: “Throughout the process, we were supported and guided by the Institute on how to navigate the processes. As we understood what needed to be done and how everything worked, we managed to move through the process pretty quickly.”

The best and the brightest

The war for talent within the clinical trials sector has seen salaries inflate at way over normal market rates, talent moving jobs with increasing frequency, and yet still hardly any employers in industry invest in our entry level talent and provide training.  Clinical Professionals launched our graduate training Academy in 2015 for the sole purpose of creating a fresh supply of talent for industry and offering our future workforce an entry point into clinical trials. We are excited that this will be incorporated into part of the training piece for the Clinical Trials Specialist apprenticeship.

Hannah Barry said: “It has become increasingly difficult in recent years for employers to recruit appropriately trained scientists to work in clinical trials.  Becoming a clinical trials specialist isn’t something you hear about at careers fairs, and the opportunities for an amazing career in this area is not widely known.”

“The apprenticeship levy has given us an excellent springboard to bring early talent discussions to the forefront and create an excellent business case for employers.”

“The Clinical Trials Specialist Apprenticeship introduces an alternative route into our industry in a fashion that is likely to attract the brightest and most talented individuals as it accelerates their learning and career in parallel,” Hannah explains.

“Traditionally, a degree would be a pre-requisite to joining the industry, so this apprenticeship really does bring a new dimension to our early talent pipeline.

“We can now access a new group of future scientists who might otherwise never have thought of joining the industry. By providing specific and targeted education and training, we’re ensuring that these young people will quickly contribute to the industry as part of a highly skilled and competent workforce.

“With this ready resource in position we can continue to position England as an attractive place to conduct clinical research and a centre for excellence.”

The UK is the third largest hub for clinical research globally, and with a strong Life Science Strategy rolled out in 2017 now is definitely the time to invest in future talent, to continue to pave the way and excel in new and innovative products for patients.

The apprenticeship

Delivered over 4 to 5 years the level 6 qualification facilitates learning for the apprentices in the core science that underpins clinical trials, as well as the process of clinical research, whilst also experiencing it first-hand.

Gaining relevant skills they can apply within the clinical research field, the apprentices will develop an understanding of the scientific, regulatory, ethical and methodological issues involved in the design, conduct, analysis and reporting of clinical trials.

While training, apprentices will work in operational roles where, under appropriate supervision, they will deliver the monitoring, oversight or project management aspects of clinical trials.

Apprentices will be awarded Bachelor of Science degrees on successful completion of their training.

Hannah adds: “Clinical trial specialists can go on to work in a range of roles, including clinical trials assistant, clinical research associate, study co-ordinator and clinical project manager.

“As they gain experience we expect our clinical trials specialists to go on to lead clinical trial teams. This apprenticeship will open up many doors in clinical research, training tomorrow’s industry leaders.”

Next steps

Whilst the trailblazer group consisted of passionate and dedicated teams from over 10 UK employers it is still astonishing how many clinical trial teams and employers, and regulatory teams and employers, do not know of the standards that have been in development, or even if they have been contributing payments into the HMRC levy ‘pot’ that they can draw down from.  There certainly remains a huge amount of education around apprenticeships in the clinical trial space, and we can learn from the successes within the laboratory/scientific fields and bioinformatics and other pre-clinical areas.

“Developing the standard is just the beginning – the more important part is how to bring it to life. Our next step is to start promoting the apprenticeship to employers, education providers and, eventually, candidates,” says Hannah.

“Currently, we’re drafting an information pack for employers which will detail how to implement the apprenticeship and recruit prospective apprentices.”

There is an informative website with further details, but there then needs to be a plan for employers on how to find and attract their apprentices (they can go via an Apprentice Training Agency or ATA – which Clinical Professionals are), how to properly choose and set up training with providers, and how to properly manage and deliver the right work for the apprentice so they work towards their end point assessment (EPA).

For more information you can download a guide from the CP Academies website or visit the CTS Standard website.


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