The Alderley Park Lighthouse Lab in Cheshire plays a key role in supporting the government's drive to increase UK testing capacity. The facility, operated by Medicines Discovery Catapult (MDC) – forms part of the largest network of diagnostic testing facilities in British history.
One of the most important parts of increasing testing capacity is recruiting an appropriately skilled workforce, for which the Alderley Park lab has already created 381 new jobs and is set to generate further employment opportunities as it expands capacity further over the coming months.
For Professor Chris Molloy, CEO of MDC, the situation has presented those interested in entering the North West's Life Sciences industry with an excellent opportunity.
Professor Molloy, who also led the formation of the Lighthouse Labs network, said: "We've been hugely impressed by the sheer volume and diversity of the number of people coming on board with us. Many of our employees tasked with processing the swab tests are graduates and placement students, overseen by experts.
"The Lighthouse Labs Network – the largest collaboration of diagnostic testing facilities in UK history, was set up from scratch in March, and we had an initial influx of over 1,000 volunteers who joined the call to action.
"It was an amazing achievement and demonstrated both ingenuity and a genuine willingness from so many people to come together to help the country in a time of adversity. These volunteers have now returned to their own jobs and we're now welcoming on board and training around two-dozen lab scientists a week from diverse backgrounds.
"That's why we're expecting to grow the number of employees even more in the coming month, as we further ramp up testing to help meet the Government's goal of 500,000 daily tests by the end of October. In line with our longer-term ambition to hire 300 additional employees, we're expecting to recruit 100 employees in October."
Although nearly two thirds of young people are concerned about the impact Covid-19 will have on their careers, recent reports have identified a surge in interest in scientific careers as a direct result of the pandemic.
Dr. Milena von und zur Muhlen, a Senior Bioscience Lead at Alderley Park, said: "I responded to the Government's call for scientists across the country to volunteer to work in the new testing facilities. I started at the Lighthouse Lab in Alderley Park in early May, a few weeks after the labs first opened, and in July, I then took on a contracted position.
"At the time we were processing around 12,000 samples a day, 6 months later, we are processing almost 40,000 samples a day – playing a part in this progression has been incredibly rewarding.
"I really enjoy the team spirit at the Lighthouse, we are all working towards a common national goal. Everyone has been going above and beyond since the very beginning to help get as many people as possible the results they need. The Lighthouse workforce is also incredibly diverse, which makes it a very welcoming workplace.
"I grew up in France and moved to the UK for my undergraduate degree and never left. I studied a BSc in Molecular Biology at the University of Sheffield followed by a PhD in Microbiology. I finished my PhD at the end of 2019, after which I took a short break from science, before coming back into the lab as part of the Covid-19 volunteer workforce.
"I am now a Senior Bioscience Lead, which means I do the on-the-floor management of a shift. On any given shift, I manage the flow of samples from arrival on site through to the different labs and help with any problem solving and incident management in the labs."
Professor Molloy added: "The Lighthouse Labs Network presents early career researchers and experienced scientists alike with the opportunity to develop their expertise at a crucial time for the county – playing a pivotal role in the battle against coronavirus."
Health Minister Lord Bethell said: "These new skilled roles at Alderley Park Lighthouse Lab will provide a significant boost to the UK's growing diagnostic industry. It really is wonderful to see so many important jobs being created, from those at the start of their careers, bringing fresh ideas while building valuable skills, to highly experienced experts able to oversee entire laboratories.
"I would like to thank all of those who are working around the clock with exceptional purpose to make sure everyone who needs a test can get one."
Interim Executive Chair of the National Institute for Health Protection, Baroness Dido Harding said: "The most important factor in increasing our testing capacity is our growing workforce.
"Our network of Labs are staffed by a wide range of immensely talented people. I'm grateful for the considerable work being done by all the recruits, and I applaud Alderley Park as they continue to grow their team and boost capacity."
For more information on the Lighthouse Labs Network, please visit: https://www.lighthouselabs.org.uk/