Home Blog › Golden Period of Innovation in Ireland’s Life Sciences Sector​

The pharmaceutical and biotech sectors have recently seen a golden period with significant growth. This is as true in Ireland as it is globally, and the industry here is responsible for over 50,000 highly skilled jobs that deliver €45 billion in annual exports.

Investment in the sector has come from external investment into Ireland by multinationals (25 of the largest biotech and pharma companies have extensive Irish operations) alongside national investment projects from Irish organisations and Government. This investment is ongoing, as shown by Pfizer’s €1 billion investment at its site near Dublin, plus multi-million Euro investments by others such as Merck in Cork, Boston Scientific in Galway, and many other businesses across the island.

Many of these new investments have the dual goals of increasing productivity and simultaneously improving environmental outcomes by producing fewer waste products and carbon emissions. These are essential parts of Horizon Europe and Ireland’s Impact 2030 RD&I agenda.

The Skilled Staff Problem​

The growth and continued investment in the pharma and biotech sectors have resulted in a shortage of skilled staff. This is true globally and in Ireland. Research by Enterprise Ireland reported that 26% of Irish companies working in the industry cited skills and talent shortages as the biggest challenge to their businesses.

If Ireland wants to stay at the forefront of this critical sector, we will need to ensure we have the talented people required and create jobs they want to do. As outlined in the Technology Foresight Ireland: Report of the Health and Life Sciences Panel report (PDF download link):

“Ireland will need to invest even further in its greatest asset, that is, its emerging population of young and well-educated people, if it is to maximise the benefits from knowledge-based industries in the coming decades.”

Addressing the Skills Gap

Ensuring that there is a supply of appropriately skilled people to fill the jobs that will be available in the biotech sector will require action on multiple fronts. There will need to be investments in third-level degree courses that give our young people the knowledge and skills required by this 21st-century industry. Skills that cover biotechnology, molecular biology, nanotechnology, computing subjects such as machine learning and programming, and details of modern manufacturing using techniques from Industry 4.0 and Pharma 4.0.

A big part of plugging the skills gap will be using productivity advantages and advanced smart manufacturing techniques from Industry 4.0, especially Pharma 4.0. The latter is the focus of Oleson, and I believe it will play a significant part in addressing the lack of skilled people in the sector by allowing higher productivity returns from fewer people using advanced manufacturing processes.

For anyone who isn’t aware of the Pharma 4.0 term, here is a summary. It is an industry-wide effort by Pharma research labs and manufacturers to create a roadmap to adopt Industry 4.0 manufacturing best practices (see ref 1 for a Deloitte Insights explainer on Industry 4.0).

The Pharma 4.0 initiative is managed by the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering (ISPE) (ref 2.) Their Pharma 4.0 mission statement begins with the following:

“The aim is to provide practical guidance, embedding regulatory best practices, to accelerate Pharma 4.0™ transformations. The objective is to enable organisations involved in the pharmaceutical product lifecycle to leverage the full potential of digitalisation to provide faster therapeutic innovations and improved production processes for the benefit of patients.”

By adopting advanced manufacturing practices, organisations can increase their productivity with fewer skilled staff needed to keep factories operating around the clock. These advanced techniques turn staff into connected workers who operate more efficiently in a connected factory. Gartner defines the connected factory and worker as follows (ref 3):

“The connected factory worker concept is a new approach to industrial efficiency. It’s as much a technology construct that changes how factory workers access information and knowledge to do their jobs differently, as it is a change management exercise that is rooted in workforce development, behavioural shifts and integrated continuous improvement.”

In Oleson, we have extensive knowledge and partnerships with organisations operating across the pharma sector. In conjunction with our connected worker industry partners in 4Industry and ServiceNow, our consultants can work with pharma labs and manufacturers to design and deliver intelligent factory solutions and connected worker technologies that conform to Industry 4.0 and Pharma 4.0 best practices. We can partner with your pharma or other biotech sector manufacturing teams to deliver connected worker benefits that increase staff productivity without adding additional workload and pressure to the individuals on the factory floor.


The success of the Irish pharma sector has been an engine for growth for the whole Irish economy and across the broader EU. To continue to have this engine of innovation and success compete with challenges from the USA, Asia, and emerging regions will require adopting smarter working practices that allow our industry to weather the global shortage of skilled staff. I’m confident we can do this.


  1. Deloitte Insights: Forces of change: Industry 4.0. –


  1. ISPE: Pharma 4.0 – https://ispe.org/initiatives/pharma-4.0
  1. Gartner Research: Innovation Insight for the Connected Factory Worker – https://www.gartner.com/en/documents/4000352

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