ATAC: Emilia Reyes Pabon

Emilia Reyes Pabon is progressing through apprenticeships at University of Oxford’s Clinical BioManufacturing Facility and helping to contribute to the Covid-19 response with ATAC

Emilia achieved her A-levels in biology, chemistry and physics. She decided early on that she enjoyed hands-on experience and learning in the workplace.

From the work experience she attained from an NHS Foundation Trust in Oxford and within the Department of Physiology Anatomy & Genetics (DPAG, University of Oxford), she knew she absolutely wanted to work in a laboratory environment for her future career. After being offered a place at university, she was also successful in applying for an operations technician apprentice role at University of Oxford’s Clinical BioManufacturing Facility (CBF) with the opportunity to study towards the level 3 laboratory technician apprenticeship at the same time.

Emilia decided to accept the apprenticeship instead of her place at university due to this role being on her doorstep as well as providing the hands-on experience that she enjoyed. Emilia’s role was tasked with core responsibilities vital to the operation of the CBF; these included autoclaving and environmental monitoring within the facility cleanrooms, ensuring critical equipment functionality, disposing of hazardous waste and helping to define standard operating procedures.

Emilia completed her level 3 end-point assessment in August 2020 with distinction, marking the first apprentice to graduate from the programme. She has now progressed onto a second apprenticeship working towards the level 5 technician scientist qualification and continues to add value to CBF whilst studying.


An apprenticeship with impact—becoming a valued member of the team

When asked about her experience of both of her apprenticeships, Emilia replied: “I really wanted to stay with CBF after completing my level 3 apprenticeship, so I am so pleased that I have been able to stay with them and progress onto the higher level of the apprenticeship.

“One of the standout moments of my apprenticeship so far has been the opportunity to contribute to the safe manufacture of the Covid-19 vaccine. I have been so proud to get involved with this work and contribute extra hours to help the team towards rapidly manufacturing the vaccine in line with GMP [standards] in preparation for a UK phase I/II clinical trial initiated in April 2020.

“The ATAC cohort and networking opportunities have been great. It can be difficult to share experiences and connect with people who work in similar roles to you, such as those who work in GMP environments; ATAC has enabled this. I have also been given the opportunity to deliver presentations, which has increased my confidence.

“The apprenticeship has enabled me to learn different things. I have also been able to put my learning into practice at CBF and have been able to ask questions to clarify my understanding as well as challenge the way that things are done (in a professional way!). This has resulted in changes of procedures through change control.

“If you want hands-on experience as well as studying, consider an apprenticeship. If you are an employer and you want fresh ideas and feedback for improvements, consider an apprentice!”

Dr Cathy Oliveira, GMP production manager and Emilia’s manager at CBF, explained that: “Emilia’s role at the CBF as an apprentice has been critical for us to achieve our goals of manufacturing ChAdOx1 nCOV-19 for first-in-man clinical trials. Since then, Emilia’s willingness to contribute to the team as a whole, not just within production, has been important for our continuous improvement initiatives.

“As an apprentice, Emilia brings fresh eyes and an inquisitiveness that is very much appreciated and needed in our sector.”


The next steps

Emilia is studying towards her level 5 technician scientist apprenticeship. She intends to progress to the full degree (level 6) in laboratory scientist to continue to work towards achieving her ambition to become a registered scientist.

She said: “Completing an apprenticeship has given me the opportunity to learn and gain a qualification while gaining valuable industry experience. It has helped me improve my confidence and gain important transferable skills that I will be able to use regularly throughout my career.”


The outcome

Being part of the ATAC programme has provided both Emilia and CBF with the experience and support that has led to Emilia wanting to take on a second ATAC apprenticeship and CBF to continue to develop staff through apprenticeships. The skills gained through the apprenticeship has provided Emilia with invaluable practical experience for progression in a ground-breaking and expanding field, and CBF with a new member of staff trained in key skills for which there is currently a gap in the market.


About the level 3 laboratory technician apprenticeship

A laboratory technician may carry out both routine and one-off laboratory testing and perform a variety of technical support functions across the organisation. Working safely and ethically is paramount and many companies operate under highly regulated conditions because of the need to control the quality and safety of products.

Laboratory technicians are expected to work both individually and as part of a laboratory team, and be able to work with minimum supervision, taking responsibility for the quality and accuracy of the work that is undertaken. This programme is level 3 and delivered through CSR Group for 24 months.

Typical job roles may include: Analytical support chemist, technical support scientist, microbiology support scientist, process development technologist, laboratory assistant, senior laboratory technician, technical specialist, quality control laboratory assistant, laboratory co-ordinator, technical laboratory assistant, laboratory analyst, laboratory research assistant.


About University of Oxford – Clinical BioManufacturing Facility (CBF)

The Clinical BioManufacturing Facility is the University of Oxford’s Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) manufacturing facility. The Clinical BioManufacturing Facility has over 20 years’ experience producing biological Investigational Medicinal Products (IMPs) according to the principles of GMP for early phase clinical trials. They aim to provide the link between academic research and clinical drug development, to allow collaborators to make rapid progress into clinical trials.


Supported by the Advanced Therapies Apprenticeship Community (ATAC)

Advanced therapies apprentices enjoy access to a wide variety of support provided by ATAC including:

  • Access to learning resources and technical webinars from industry experts
  • Optional cohort days for apprentices from different organisations to meet, share their experiences and collaborate
  • Advice for professional development, such as presenting and networking
  • Membership to a network of apprentices, employers, and training providers across advanced therapies
  • Access to the ATAC App for further information, resources, community connections and more!


Developing skills and employability for the future

ATAC has prioritised a range of programmes, from entry-level to Master’s-equivalent apprenticeships, to bring in new talent and upskill staff for the rapidly growing UK cell and gene therapy industry. The number of ATAC apprentices more than doubled in one year, now standing at 136 apprentices employed across 36 UK companies, and the initiative continues to provide a platform for developing industry innovators of the future.


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