Apprenticeships in the pharmaceutical industry

Apprenticeships: an alternative way to cultivate talents

Apprenticeships are an alternative way of cultivating talent outside of the traditional school – university route. Underpinning the Industrial Strategy, apprenticeships address the skill gaps in the industry and enhance industry-academia collaborations.

From age 16, there are opportunities for apprentices in industry, which allows them to earn a wage while continuing learning. To encourage personal development while delivering high-standard training, many apprenticeships offer a degree from partnering academic institutions.

An alternative path from GCSC to MSc
Apprentices earn, learn, gain degrees, and develop a full range of career paths



>4 fold increase
The number of apprentices hosted by the pharmaceutical industry surged from 2013



“My biggest accomplishment is how far I have come as a person.

“Since starting my confidence has grown to no end, with me now chairing a committee.”

“I think to be an apprentice the biggest skills are dedication, willingness to learn and organisation.”

Katie is a Level 5 apprentice in cell and gene therapy in GlaxoSmithKline

In the pharmaceutical industry, the number of apprenticeships has surged over the past 6 years, increasing more than 4 fold from 144 in 2013 to 621 in 2019 (15 companies surveyed in each case).

Apprenticeships in the pharmaceutical industry cover the full range of educational levels, starting from the equivalent to GCSC (level 2) right up to MSc (level 7). Although not identified in the recent survey, level 8 apprenticeships, equivalent to PhD, are being discussed and developed. These allows apprentices to learn and develop continuously, based on evolving skill gaps and personal strengths. Many apprentices undertake successive apprenticeships, progressing to higher levels within the same company.

2-3 year training
Apprenticeships shifted from 3-4 years to 2-3 years, meaning more flexibility in career development for apprentices


Case study: Digital and Technology Solutions Apprentice

“I am in a User Experience (UX) Analyst role, supporting multiple R&D Tech projects with UX needs."

Ilan is a Level 6 DTS Degree Apprenticeship in GlaxoSmithKline with Queen Mary, University of London, following a diploma and A-level. 

From the industry…


We are really excited about our new apprenticeships in Data Analytics and Data Science. These apprenticeship standards are allowing us to build key skills and capabilities in both our early talent and existing employee groups. We are working closely with our apprenticeship providers to build these courses and find new ways of learning to help people develop across all areas of our business.  


-Global talent programme lead at Apprenticeships GlaxoSmithKline

Apprenticeships address industrial skills gaps and encourage personal development

Apprenticeships offered by the pharmaceutical industry span a wide range of business areas. Roles in R&D are traditionally believed to suit science university students or postgraduates, due to the critical scientific thinking and laboratory skills required. In our 2019 survey, the percentage of apprenticeships in research and development (R&D) increased from 7% to 37%, which may reflect the maturity of apprenticeship programmes and the growing confidence that companies have in bringing apprentices on board.



​R&D apprenticeships are increasing
Apprenticeships in R&D have more than doubled since 2017


The number of business areas in which apprenticeships are available has also grown alongside the boost in the number of apprenticeships. Aside from the business areas noted in previous surveys (e.g., manufacturing, supply chain), there are a number of new fields where apprentices are recruited. ‘Other’ areas in the 2019 data include: consumer, quality, management, regulatory, sales & marketing, procurement, digital, facilities, and legal. Apprenticeships in different areas span several levels, including R&D (level 2-7), manufacturing (level 3, 5-6), and supply chain (level 3-7).

​Enable continuous development within the same business area
A number of apprenticeships at different levels are available within each business area



Case study: Applied biosciences journey to PhD

“I have had the opportunity to take theory and apply it on the bench to see how science works in real life, this is invaluable.​"

Abbey has finished her Level 6 Degree Apprenticeship in applied biosciences, and is continuing her journey to PhD.

My Choice at 16...

What can I study?                         Will I be paid?

                              Will I get a qualification?

             Where to find apprenticeships?

See detailed guidance on apprenticeships.


Last modified: 16 January 2024

Last reviewed: 16 January 2024