Smart Manufacturing in the Life Sciences: What Skills Do We Need to Succeed?

As smart manufacturing continues to take hold in the Life Sciences, Deb Briffa looks at the human skills that will support this technological revolution.

By Deb Briffa, Vice President, Global Client Lead, KellyOCG

Today, as the manufacturing sector rapidly evolves, we are seeing a significant change not only in the machines and technology that sit within factory walls but in the skills we need to support them. Nowhere is this truer than in the Life Sciences, where a competitive market place punctuated by rapid M&A activity means that being at the leading edge of technology and efficiency can set organizations apart from the competition.

Smart manufacturing is a step beyond automation – something we have been seeing in factories for decades – to a highly inter-connected factory environment supported by sensors, AI, and machine learning. It goes beyond the ways we physically produce pharmaceuticals and medical devices, integrating key functions such as planning and supply chain management to drive productivity, efficiency, and agility. Smart manufacturing is still a work in progress for many Life Sciences organizations, but it’s coming fast and it’s something talent specialists need to be ready for.

I take a closer look at some of the very human skills we need to thrive in smart manufacturing in the Life Sciences, below.

Critical Thinking

Traditionally, many of the skills needed to succeed in Life Sciences production were physical. Workers might be asked to perform repetitive tasks, move goods from one area to another, or carry out repairs. These types of tasks have informed how we support people in the industrial and light-industrial spaces, with assessments and safety procedures focused on the manual end of the skills spectrum. This has to completely transform in the age of smart manufacturing. Workers in new smart Life Sciences factories need to be able to solve problems, interpret data, and think quickly to ensure that systems run smoothly.

Continuous Learning

The evolution of Life Sciences manufacturing doesn’t stop here. The increasing digitization of our world is accelerating the pace of change to a blur. The skills needed to succeed in a smart manufacturing environment may not be the same in two years or five years, and they are likely to have transformed entirely in a decade. The new manufacturing specialists must commit to a program of lifelong learning and organizations must continually update the knowledge and skills of the workers who support their business.  


The move away from the production lines of the past to a world where the shop floor is connected to every stage of the product journey requires a shift in mindset. Strong communication skills and the ability for people to work with teams across functional areas are vital in this highly-connected Life Sciences environment. This is the Internet of Things (IoT) in action and it’s important that workers are communicating with some of the same efficiency as the machines and sensors that are driving key processes.

So, is this a case of out with the old and in with the new?

Will a fresh generation of Life Sciences workers come in to support the smart manufacturing transformation? I believe the answer is no. The clients I partner with have a real focus on upskilling their current workforce to grow with the new technology they are introducing. And it’s not just a case of learning a new skill set, it’s a whole education piece on the possibilities of smart manufacturing and the benefits it can drive at every level of an organization. Not only in the efficiencies it promotes but in helping Life Sciences organizations to meet their larger goals of developing life-changing treatments and supporting patients around the globe.  

Talent organizations have a responsibility to support workers and businesses through this period of flux. We have to change the way we think about, support, and educate people across the industry. The future of Life Sciences manufacturing is already here, and it’s up to us to make sure we’re ready for it.

To discuss this topic further with the author or to learn more about our life sciences and healthcare expertise, contact us today.