Wanted: A Highly Skilled Bio/Pharma Workforce

Published on: 
Pharmaceutical Technology, Pharmaceutical Technology-12-02-2017, Volume 41, Issue 12
Pages: 9

Is pharma up to the task of developing knowledgeable, motivated employees?

For more than 15 years, Pharmaceutical Technology has conducted a survey of the bio/pharma employment environment to assess trends, patterns in salaries and benefits, and employee satisfaction with careers in the industry.

In addition to the compiled statistics from the 2017 survey (1) reported in this issue (2), the survey gathers participant commentary to open-ended questions on several employment-related topics. As expected, when you ask people for anonymous feedback about their work, the answers range from amusing to angry to thoughtful. Most important, the comments provide honest feedback about a deeply personal topic: the employee’s chosen profession, source of income, and the contributions they make to a cause.

Recurring themes in the comments included:

  • The influence of outsourcing continues to grow, shifting employment opportunities from bio/pharma companies to contract service providers.

  • Staff reductions occurred in some functional areas, but increased in others.

  • Leadership at the management level is lacking in some organizations.

  • The competitiveness of the job market depends on geographic location. In competitive areas, it is very difficult to find and retain qualified talent.

  • The small-molecule market segment is contracting; as the biologics segment assumes more of the market share, some pharma veterans are looking for biopharma opportunities.

The need for adequate staffing, skilled personnel, and training was another common theme. Respondents cited a need for training in leadership and management skills, regulatory science and affairs, technical management, and advanced technology skills.

Limited availability of qualified workers can have a negative effect on bio/pharma industry growth. Eric Langer noted that employment concerns are one roadblock to continuing growth for the biopharmaceutical industry (3). More than one-half of bioprocessing facilities experienced capacity problems in 2017 due to difficulties in hiring needed operations staff. Outsourcing manufacturing processes due to staff limitations may not be a solution, he noted, as contract manufacturers also face hiring problems.

Up to the job?

In the 2017 survey, less than 5% of the respondents said new hires were “extremely” well trained for their job functions. Nearly 85% of respondents ranked new hires as “adequately trained, but not exceptional,” and more than 14% said the new hires were poorly trained, “I don’t understand how they got their jobs.”

Respondents also noted the need for training. Approximately 60% of the respondents expressed some dissatisfaction with the lack of training and continuing education at their organization. Nearly one-quarter said the company did not provide adequate training for basic skills; 40% said the company did not provide advanced training for employee professional growth.

Drug companies need highly skilled, knowledgeable scientists, engineers, technicians, and professionals to develop and manufacture new therapies. Bringing a new drug to market is a long-time, high-investment endeavor. Demands for financial performance, however, have short-term horizons.

Both employers and employees need to address the training questions.  What are the responsibilities of employees to develop their own workplace skill sets? Will their personal investment in training and education result in career or salary advances? Are bio/pharma companies willing to invest in training? Will that training be sufficient to provide for the skilled workforce needed to get the job done?


1. 2017 Pharmaceutical Technology/Pharmaceutical Technology Europe Employment Survey, Pharmaceutical Technology, 2017.
2. R. Peters, “Formulating a Recipe for Bio/Pharma Career Success,” Pharmaceutical Technology, 41 (12) 16-19 (2017).
3. E. Langer and R. Rader, “Top Trends in Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing, 2017,” Pharmaceutical Technology, 41 (9) 58-60 (2017).

Article Details

Pharmaceutical Technology
Vol. 41, No. 12
December 2017
Page: 9


When referring to this article, please cite it as R. Peters, “Wanted: A Highly Skilled Bio/Pharma Workforce," Pharmaceutical Technology 41 (12) 2017.