Careers rarely develop the way we plan them. Our career path often takes many twists and turns, with particular events, choices and people influencing our direction.

We asked Aoife Mc Dermott from Department of Education and Skills to give some advice for people considering this job:

Aoife Mc Dermott


Department of Education and Skills

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Aoife Mc Dermott
The most important thing is that you like your subject area! It?s also important to do as well as you can throughout your degree. For example, I applied for PhD scholarship during my final year, so they were looking at my first, second and third year results. Finally, I find that liking people helps a lot.

Creative people are drawn to careers and activities that enable them to take responsibility for the design, layout or sensory impact of something (visual, auditory etc). They may be drawn towards the traditional artistic pursuits such as painting, sculpture, singing, or music. Or they may show more interest in design, such as architecture, animation, or craft areas, such as pottery and ceramics.

Creative people use their personal understanding of people and the world they live in to guide their work. Creative people like to work in unstructured workplaces, enjoy taking risks and prefer a minimum of routine.
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BioPharmachem Ireland 

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If you are looking for an excellent employment opportunity that offers stability, good potential, and plenty of professional challenge, consider the pharmaceutical industry.

If you are looking for an excellent employment opportunity that offers stability, good potential, and plenty of professional challenge, consider the pharmaceutical industry.

Career Opportunities... header image
What are the main occupations in this sector?

There are good reasons to consider a career in Ireland’s pharmaceutical sector. In addition to a wide diversity of career opportunities, statistics from the CSO show that workers in the sector earn on average almost 30% more than the national average.

The industry provides a stable and secure career environment for graduates to gain multinational experience right on their own doorstep and to participate in the global effort to improve and prolong people’s lives.

Ireland’s success in attracting biotechnology companies here adds another exciting dimension to the careers on offer. Biotechnology uses biological systems or cells to make or modify products that can be used as medicines and will generate many more medicines in the future, many of which will be personalised for individual use. As the industry here moves towards being increasingly knowledge-led in all its activities, the prospects for employees and the economy are considerable and

The following list broad categories of activities in the industry outline some of the jobs and career opportunities currently available: 


This is the starting point for a new medicine. Because many diseases still cannot yet be cured or because existing treatment may cause unwanted side effects, new medicines that work in different ways are constantly being sought.

  • Chemists, biologists, pharmacologists IT specialists and a variety of other science disciplines work in teams to try to identify chemical compounds which might eventually become a medicine.


Once a chemical compound has been found which could possibly work to treat the target disease, a variety of tests must be carried out to ensure that the compound can be made on a viable scale, formulated into a medicine and given to patients without causing them harm. This work takes several years and involves a variety of different people, mainly scientists and

  • Analytical Chemists,
  • Development Chemists, Process Chemists,
  • Pharmacists, Biologists, Validation Scientists,
  • Microbiologists, Product Development Scientists,
  • Process Development Scientists.


To ensure the medicine works safely and effectively, it is first tested on animals before moving on to ‘Phase One’ trials on human beings. At this stage doctors and scientists first, determine the correct dose to give to human volunteers and then carry out controlled trials in patients suffering from the disease.

  • Clinical Research
  • Specialist/Associates, Clinical Monitor, Clinical
  • Trials Specialist, Compliance Specialist, Laboratory
  • Technician, Documentation and Compliance
  • Scientist, Regulatory Affairs Officer/Manager,
  • Quality Assurance Specialist, Validation Specialist,
  • Quality and Compliance Specialist, Medical Scientist,
  • Formulation Scientist, Doctor, Nurse.


Manufacturing the medicine involves making the chemical compound and then mixing it with other substances to make a tablet, cream or aerosol that enable patients to take it.

Safety and quality assurance is paramount, demanding constant vigilance and careful controls at every step.

Scientists, engineers, IT specialists and many others are involved in both.


  • Process Development
  • Chemist, Quality Control Analysts/Supervisor,


Engineers do everything from designing and commissioning new machinery (and the buildings to house them) to operating and maintaining existing


  • Process and Project Engineer,
  • Quality Assurance Systems Co-ordinator,
  • Chemical Engineer, Production Engineer,
  • Mechanical Engineer,
  • Physics
  • Laboratory Technician,
  • Validation Officer, Production Operator, Validation Engineer


Patenting medicines and preventing copying is vital to financing research and ensuring such investment is made in the future. The research-based industry relies heavily on patent protection to sustain the development of new effective medicines. Patenting is carried out by specialists working within the industry, bringing together law and science disciplines.


  • Copyright and Intellectual Property Specialist,
  • Lawyer,
  • Pharmacist


Scientists in regulatory affairs draw together information on tests that have been carried out on the drug substance and use this information to apply for permission to carry out clinical trials and to market the medicine.


  • Regulatory Affairs Specialist/Manager, Quality and Regulatory Affairs Engineer,
  • Research Scientist, Process Development Chemist,
  • Formulation Scientist, Pharmacist


Pharmacists are crucial in every stage of drug development into a suitable form for use, from checking the medicines’ stability, providing supplies for clinical trails and working with people from secondary manufacturing plants, to ensuring that formulation can be scaled up for volume production, and is appropriately packaged.


  • Quality Control Chemist,
  • Pharmacist, Regulatory Affairs Specialist


Researching and developing new medicines would not be unsustainable if doctors were not aware of new medicines and what they can do for patients, both by providing new solutions and improving existing ones. Medical sales representatives visit hospitals and GPs’ surgeries to inform doctors about the benefits of the new medicines their companies produce.


  • Marketing Manager,
  • Medical Sales Representatives/Specialists,
  • Hospital Sales Representative/Specialist,
  • Communications Specialists


The swift exchange and recording of information is critical throughout the development and manufacturing process, so IT has an increasingly critical role to play in every facet of medicine. The development of more customised medicines in the future that rely on patient information will increasingly rely on the work of IT professionals.


  • Process/Systems Analyst,
  • Development Engineer, Validation engineer,
  • Application Support Specialists, Project Managers,
  • Analyst Programmers


With the pharmaceutical industry’s investments and income running into the billions, effective accounting and finance management is an exciting area. Ireland has seen a number of pharmaceutical companies add their European financial operations to their activities here, creating opportunities at every level from controls to banking.


HR supports the people behind the scientific work, helping to make the most of their talent and training. In HR, you will find yourself recruiting for many different roles and developing the skills of a huge range of people.


  • HR Manager
  • HR generals,
  • Recruitment consultants,
  • Trainers


What types of employment contracts are there?

Employment contracts range from permanent, temporary, part time, job sharing to fixed term.


What are the typical earnings of these occupations?

A graduate Chemist can expect to start on around €30,000 and a graduate Engineer on around €38,000.

Salaries increase quite rapidly as experience is acquired.

Most companies provide a good range of benefits, pension schemes etc.

Employment conditions tend to be excellent in most cases.


How do you get a job in this sector?

  • Contact your university careers office
  • Keep an eye on the newspapers
  • Contact employment agencies that specialise in the sector
  • Visit the websites of the major companies


Education and Training... header image
What qualifications are required?

The job you see yourself working in will determine the level of qualifications you need.

National Certificates will in most cases qualify the graduate to work as a Technician, preparing chemicals and helping the scientists in their day to day duties.

Ordinary degrees will allow you to work in quality control, ensuring the drug products produced are of a sufficiently high standard.

Honours degrees allow you to work in various roles throughout the plant from quality control to process development to research and development.

Masters and Doctorates will help a graduate rise quickly in the organisation. The graduate often comes into the organisation at the same level as an honours degree graduate but tends to get promotion easier, and often ends up as team leaders etc.


What are the typical routes into this sector?

The main route into the science sector is through third level courses. Every Institute of Technology and University has courses available in science so there is normally no problem getting into study a course to suit you.

Institutes of Technology offer the ladder system, where students can study for a four year degree in broken steps, giving them the option of taking years out rather than doing 4 years straight. University degrees are generally 3 or 4 year courses depending on the college your in. These courses are a straight run through these years, the ladder system does not apply.

Often there are options to transfer from course to course. If you don't get the points to get into a Institutes of Technology course, you could consider a PLC course. Many will allow entry to Institutes of Technology upon successful completion of the PLC course. Likewise, if it is unlikely that you will get the points to get into a university  course, most Institutes of Technology national certificates will allow entry to a university course provided the courses are similar and the standard of grades are met.

Remember do not let the point system fool you. Science is science wherever you choose to study it. Points are not an indication in the slightest of how hard or easy a course is. In fact, many people who enter a course with low points find themselves dropping out when they discover that it wasn't as easy as they thought. You need to work hard no matter what course you are studying.


Advice... header image
What advice do you have for school leavers?

Since many jobs in the scientific sector require specialist qualifications, you should carefully consider your choices after you leave school if you are planning a career in science

There is a wide range of Third level science courses available both in Ireland and aboard. such as analytical, chemistry, biotech or pharmaceutical science. The course content will differ so make sure you understand what will be involved.

The best way to find this out is to visit institution websites or ask your teacher and careers guidance counsellor.

Where to study?

Details of the Science Courses on offer in Ireland are available here.


What advice do you have for graduates?

50% of employees in the industry are highly-trained graduates. Graduates often find it hard to enter the workplace straight after finishing their course, even those with doctorates. You will see many jobs advertised with experience required, which at this stage you do not have. However keep looking, there are plenty of jobs for graduates.

It is always worthwhile to go on and study for postgraduates degrees, masters and doctorates (PhD.), however, you will notice that initially, getting a job will still be tough. Once into the industry, however, people with post graduate qualifications tend to move up through the organisation much faster.

The key is to get 2-3 years under your belt once you find a position. Once you get to this level you will notice a wide range of opportunities opening up for you. Grind it out for the first few years, it will be worth it!!


What advice do you have for career changers?

Changing careers is often a very dramatic move for people. Coming into a highly skilled workplace such as the PharmaChem sector, experience in technical roles such as IT and engineering can be ideal. People with such skills often find it easy to adapt as they are used to the high tech sector.

However, if you envisage a change of career you will need to upskill. A good starting point is
Springboard courses and  pharmachem skillnet who offer free course places to job seekers

Biopharma related Springboard Courses

  • Cork Institute of Technology- Certificate/Diploma in Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing Operations (NFQs 6 and 7)
  • Get ReSkilled Holdings Ltd- E-(Bio)PharmaChem (NFQ 7)
  • Innopharma Labs - Certificate in Food Science & Technology, in Pharmaceutical & Medical Device Operations (NFQ 6); Diploma in Food Science & Technology, in Pharmaceutical & Medical Device Manufacturing (NFQ 8), BA in Pharmaceutical Business Operations (NFQ 7 & 8), Certificate in Pharmaceutical Data Analytics (NFQ 7 & 9), Masters of Science in Pharmaceutical Manufacturing & Process Technology (NFQ 9), MSc in Pharmaceutical Business Operations (NFQ 9)
  • Sligo IT - Certificates in Biopharmaceutical Processing, Bioprocess Engineering (NFQ 7), Biopharmaceutical Science, BioProcessing Technologies (NFQ 8)
  • NIBRT- Certificates in Bioprocessing & Cleanroom Management (NFQ 6), in Science in Biopharmaceutical Operations (NFQ 7), in Biopharma Processing (NFQ 6), in Cleanroom Manufacturing (NFQ 6), in Quality Analytics for Biopharma (NFQ 9), in Biopharmaceutical Science (NFQ 9)
  • UCC - Postgraduate certificate in (Bio)Pharma Processing (NFQ 9)


What advice do you have for non-Irish nationals?

There are always plenty of jobs in the area of quality control. This is a key area within the industry - if the utmost high standards are not maintained, peoples health is at risk.

To work in an area like this, a minimum of a national certificate is required. Once in this role, you may find other areas of the industry that will interest you and you may have the chance to move pending on your qualifications and experience.


What advice do you have for those wishing to go back to work?

The industry encourages people to return to the workforce.

Look at the companies that are in your region.

Establish who is hiring and the skill types they are looking for.

Review your CV and establish what area you need to upskill or reskill in.

Look at Springboard Courses and Pharmachem Skillnet courses that are available to you.

Some courses are available online.


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Global Opportunities... header image
Are there overseas opportunities available?

Most of the companies in this sector are global giants and have plants right throughout the world. Many people have moved from Irish plants to foreign plants for a period of time and then return home. Opportunities like this come up regularly and providing you have the right skills required, there is no reason why you cannot apply for a transfer to another country/plant.


Are there opportunities in this sector for non-Irish nationals?

Yes, the industry has a good record of employing non-nationals.


About this Sector... header image
Please give an overview of your sector?

The pharmaceutical and Biopharma industry is undoubtedly Ireland’s most valuable and most stable sector, attracting some of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies.

  • Nine of the top 10 Pharmaceutical companies are located in Ireland
  • Five out of the top 12 selling drugs are produced in Ireland
  • Ireland has become the world’s largest net exporter of pharmaceuticals worldwide
  • €58 billion exported in 2014, accounting for over 50% of the total Irish exports
  • Contributing over €1 billion in corporation tax annually
  • Over 3 billion in new capital is currently been invested in Ireland
  • Employs over 55,000 both directly and indirectly
  • Over half of the employees are third level graduates
  • Employing approximately 25% of all PhD researchers currently employed in Irish industry

The dynamics of the industry are changing; Ireland is emerging as a leading location for biopharmaceutical companies due to the mix of start-ups, SME’S and large multinational companies located here. Industry leaders present in Ireland including Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Genzyme, Merck, Elan, and Allergan have all recently invested in Ireland. This investment has facilitated rapid growth and development of the Biopharma industry.

Not only does the pharmaceutical sector contribute to the Irish economy, it also contributes to the nation’s health and well being by improving the quality of life and combating illness. The industry has helped improve life expectancy in Ireland by over a third in the last seventy years from 57 in 1925 to 79 today.


What is the size and scope of the sector?

The Irish pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical industry is quietly and steadily undergoing a strong growth spurt, involving a number of new site builds, as well as a number of significant expansions, and the future looks very bright for a lot of students taking up associated STEM courses in this sector.

The industry provides excellent sustainable career opportunities and currently employs 25,300 people in Ireland, over half of which are third-level graduates compared to the national average of 24 per cent. In addition, 24,500 people are employed providing services to the sector.

Not many people are aware that Ireland’s pharma industry currently generates over 50% of the country's exports. The industry exported products to the value of €58 billion in 2014 and contributes more than €1 billion in corporation tax to the Irish Exchequer annually.

For such a small country, Ireland punches well above its weight when it comes to pharmaceuticals and such a performance is sustaining our position as the largest net exporter of medicines in the world.

At present over 3 billion in new capital is currently been invested in Ireland, Creating over 3000 new jobs, plus the indirect jobs created during construction.


What are the current issues affecting this sector?

Companies have embraced the concepts of manufacturing and supply chain excellence, as well as those of on-site innovation, such as process and product development.

Irish sites have positioned themselves in discovery-related activities. This is possible only through the quality and capability of its people as well as the availability of appropriately trained graduates.

Ireland has a highly creative and very flexible workforce with an excellent ability to innovate and to lead.

In March 2015, the country posted its highest total exports in 13 years at just over €9 billion. Over 60% of this total came from the chemicals and allied products sector, that includes pharmaceuticals biopharmaceuticals and active pharmaceutical ingredients as well as chemicals - up 58% on 2014. This is clear evidence that the sector is entering a strong phase of a post-patent-cliff recovery, driven by over €3.5 billion worth of capital investment.

The recent expansion announcements by Alexion - €450 million and Mallinckrodt- €45 million both in the biologics space are the latest manifestation of this.

This positive environment presents a huge opportunity for the industry and those who work in it, however, there is seldom opportunity without challenge. The crystallising challenge for the sector is the emerging skills gaps, especially in the biological sector.


What changes are anticipated over the next 5 years

The Irish pharmaceutical and chemical sector was established in 1960 as a result of government policy at the time. Through the Industrial Development Authority (IDA Ireland), multinational pharmaceutical and chemical companies were encouraged to invest here.

Initial investments were primarily in bulk pharmaceuticals, now known as active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). Over the course of the 1970s, investment began to gravitate towards drug product manufacture. The 1990s saw this trend continue, with many established sites reinvesting significantly and expanding into shared-service activities

The Next 5 Years ...

The sector will continue to move up the value chain; it is likely that the type of manufacture taking place in Ireland will continue to increase in relative value terms.

More companies will invest in process and product development in order to anchor their manufacturing plants; this will generate more opportunities for PhD scientists.

The general prognosis for the sector remains very positive in this country and it likely to provide rewarding career options for science graduates for many years to come.


Do you have any statistics relevant to the sector?


  • The Irish pharmaceutical and chemical sector exports products to the value of 58b.
  • Ireland is the largest net exporter of Pharmaceuticals in the World.
  • Nine of the top 10 global companies are based in Ireland.
  • Very stable sector and are global leaders in Quality.
  • Ireland ranks 9th in the world for the level of high-tech exports as a percentage of manufacturing exports.

Education and skills

  • 25,300 people are employed in the Irish pharmachem sector, approx. 50% of which are third-level graduates.
  • 25% of all PhD researchers in Irish industry are employed in the sector.
  • Ireland’s educational system is ranked at 9th in the world for higher education achievement.
  • Ireland ranks 4th globally for the availability of skilled labour and openness to new ideas. 
  • Ireland’s labour market flexibility is ranked 9th in the world.

Not only does the pharmaceutical sector contribute to the Irish economy, it also contributes to the nation’s health and well being by improving the quality of life and combating illness.


  • 5 out of the top 12selling medicines manufactured in Ireland
  • In 1925 the life expectancy in Ireland was 57, today it is 79 and the number of deaths from heart disease and stroke has been halved as a result of medicines produced in Ireland

Today people in Ireland live longer, healthier and more active lives, in part, due to medical progress and pharmaceutical research and development.


Are there any areas in your sector currently experiencing skills shortages?

Shortages are emerging against the backdrop of recent investments and growth. If unaddressed, these could constrain future economic growth in the sector:

  • Chemical & biological scientists and biochemists in areas of pharma co-vigilance (drug safety & clinical trials), analytical development & product formulation
  • Biotechnology technicians; lesser availability of persons willing to work as lab technicians Most graduates at technician level (NFQ 6 / 7) stay in education to progress to higher qualifications; holders of NFQ 8 qualifications & above seek more challenging roles than those available at technician level
  • Production & process engineers - process automation & system control, product design, production planning, supply chain integration engineers (eg biotech, pharmaceutical industry)
  • Chemical engineers - specialised roles in the biotech/pharmaceutical industry
  • Quality assurance & validation engineers - including standards &regulatory compliance, process safety engineers
  • Process operatives in pharmaceutical & medical devices, especially CNC operatives.  Many unemployed operatives trained in traditional operative skills are deficient in the technical and digital competencies required for high tech automated manufacturing.
  • Technical sales/sales reps particularly in medical devices, healthcare and pharmaceuticals

The industry in Ireland is going from strength to strength and ensuring a constant stream of science graduates at secondary, third and post graduate levels is paramount.

Expenditure in R&D is growing 10% year on year, so the continuing take-up of science in schools is critical to sustaining the country’s recent years promoting science and the results are startlingly evident with the increase in the number of students taking science subjects.



About Us... header image

BioPharmaChem Ireland is the biopharma, pharma and chemical sector association of Ibec.
Representing our multinational and indigenous members, we ensure Ireland remains the global centre of excellence for innovation and development. The sector is a strong contributor to the Irish economy. Recent capital investment of over €3 billion from global biotech companies has cemented Ireland as a leading location for the development and manufacture of biopharmaceuticals.

Our Vision is that Ireland will continue to enhance its reputation as a recognised centre of excellence for innovation and development in pharmaceutical, biopharmaceutical and chemical supply, thereby remaining the location of choice for the launch of new products.

Our Mission is to influence, support and represent the sector in realising its ambition by bringing together all relevant stakeholders in the State, namely: industry, the government, the research community and the public at large, to effectively communicate the unique attractiveness of Ireland as a leading location for the supply and development of pharmaceutical products.

Why work in the PharmaChemical industry?

The pharmaceutical industry is about discovering, developing, manufacturing and promoting medicines to improve people’s health and quality of life. This is a long process taking over 20 years from discovery to prescription involving a wide range of skills and talents from many individuals. There are many reasons to work in the pharmaceutical industry:

  • The pharmaceutical and chemical industry is a strong and vibrant sector.
  • The industry is highly advanced, continuously investing in the latest technology and state of the art equipment.
  • It’s a very sociable environment and many companies promote sports and social activities and charity events.
  • PharmaChemical Companies are committed to supporting education in the community. Many links with local schools, to help promote science and encourage young people to further their education.
  • The industry offers great career opportunities for employees. With the majority of the big multinational companies based in Ireland, Irish graduates have the unique opportunity to gain multinational experience right on their own door step.
  • Statistics from the CSO show that workers in the PharmaChemical industry earn on average almost 30% more than the national average.
  • By working in the industry, an individual can use their talents and experience in an industry that creates opportunities to save and improve people lives around the world.