talent acquisition the future of the pharma workforce

Talent acquisition: the future of the pharma workforce

Pharma 4.0

With the rise of industry 4.0, we can be reasonably certain that digital transformation – enabled by radically interoperable data, AI, and open, secure platforms – will also set the direction for the future of the pharmaceutical industry. 

Manufacturers are introducing advanced technologies, automating and digitising processes, and applying advanced analytics to data. While technological shifts promise more efficient and effective operations, these efforts are channeled primarily into improving patient experience and outcomes in the pharma industry context. 

Such disruptions usually generate major shifts in the required skills of the pharma workforce. Occupational profiles are also changing; some jobs are disappearing as a result of automation while other, entirely new jobs are emerging.

Talent gaps in pharma

The most significant disruptors in pharma operations are believed to be new product modalities (such as cell and gene therapy), digitisation, and advanced analytics. A study conducted by Mckinsey, in collaboration with the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering (ISPE), on understanding major trends moulding the workforce of pharmaceutical operations in the workforce, revealed sentiments that such disruptors have already created a skill mismatch in more than 80 percent of pharma manufacturing companies. More than half of all frontline pharmaceutical workers surveyed in the study felt the impact of this disruption on their roles, while 25% of the remaining unimpacted, anticipated their roles to be affected within 5 years in the future.

Yet, pharma companies struggle to predict where they will see the talent gaps these disruptions create, though a majority monitor key trends and track talent needs. Only a minority of companies from the study (40%) believe that they know which skills are needed now, let alone in ten years. The same survey also asked interviewees for their opinion on relevant skills needed to cope with such disruption. The responses obtained varied between the frontline pharmaceutical workers, as compared to operations executives. Frontline workers perceived social and emotional skills as critical attributes for success whereas operations executives did not yet view these skills as a priority. Other skills consistently cited as important were advanced data analysis, critical thinking, and decision making, as seen in the figure below.

talent acquisition the future of the pharma workforce no deviation

Coping with talent gaps

Fortunately, most of the critical skills identified as useful in the future of pharma operations are relatively coachable and can be addressed through reskilling programs. However, current efforts on addressing talent gap issues seem to fall short. It would appear that although all companies regard talent gaps as a priority, pharma operations executives indicate that more emphasis is usually placed on technologies and use cases, rather than the talent or people aspect.

Companies are still primarily relying on traditional methods like hiring to address such gaps, but such a mitigation method is becoming increasingly limited in the modern-day context. The pharmaceutical industry now faces steeper competition for talent, from tech companies and start-ups: the demand for data analysts, data scientists and data engineers is expected to be 4 times higher than supply across all industries, in anticipation of the fourth industrial revolution. Still, only one-third of the companies surveyed have launched reskilling efforts. Of these companies, reskilling only catered to less than 10% of the workforce and the quantum invested in such efforts falls short of $5m. When compared against industry leaders, the contrast is stark: Amazon and AT&T invest approximately $5,000 to $30,000 per reskilled employee. (Source: “Towards a reskilling revolution: Industry-led action for the future of work”, World Economic Forum, January 2019, “AT&T invests $1billion in employee reskilling”, Aspen Institute, March 2018)

The call for a change in mindset

For a company to successfully cope with the current industry transformation and still remain competitive, it must go beyond status-quo approaches and implement innovative techniques to address its workforce skill gaps. Addressing these gaps by reskilling employees enables the company to retain and empower its workers to take advantage of the new digital world. While we acknowledge that capital investment does take precedence over operational efficiency investments, companies that succeed in striking a balance will be rewarded with a win-win outcome: maintaining their business advantage while also fulfilling their obligations to current and future employees. 

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This article was inspired by an earlier publication that may be found here