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The engine that drives pharmaceuticals forward, its workforce, is now very low on fuel.
The ink is still drying on commencement speeches with graduates soon to be alternately encouraged and exhorted. Encouraged to be open to their new possibilities and adventures. Exhorted to be doers not dreamers. It’s a last warm embrace from an education system that nourished most while advancing many. This was equally true 40 years ago when the pharmaceutical sciences’ faculties produced a successful vintage of creative manufacturers now due to retire. This juncture with rapidly increasing molecular diversity, digitalization, and cross team cooperation couldn’t be more challenging. And the engine that drives pharmaceuticals forward, its workforce, is now very low on fuel.
The COVID-19 pandemic was a shock to the system in unanticipated ways. A “turnover tsunami” or “great resignation” hit many companies and supply chains at an especially vulnerable moment. Researchers now say this was a much less dramatic change than appeared and took the form of both normal and “early” retirement, for the most part (1). But the effect was still to create a shortfall at a timepoint when, “71% of life sciences companies plan to increase their workforce, with more than one third of them by greater than 15%. Even in cases of modest turnover, companies will need to hire more than 25% in the next 12 months to meet hiring goals” (2).
Hiring staff fresh out of college or poaching from competitors has long been the preferred tactic to replenish the pharmaceutical workforce. But this is likely no longer sufficient given current high levels of workforce exhaustion. A workforce survey concluded that, “To address talent needs, more than one-third of respondents say their organizations either have reskilled at least one group or have a pilot or a program to do so currently under way ... The most commonly cited purpose of these efforts (57% of respondents) is to enable the implementation of a new offering, business model, or strategy. The second-most cited reason (53% of respondents) is reacting to emerging technological disruptions … [but] reskilling programs face other obstacles, too. Among respondents reporting current or planned reskilling programs, 53% say the most significant challenge has been balancing their programs’ needs with those of current business operations” (3).
For pharmaceuticals the way forward most likely combines identifying young pups while also teaching leopards to change their spots.
1. Tanzi, C.; Sasso, M. Covid Early Retirees Top 3 Million in U.S., Fed Research Shows. Bloomberg news. October 2021.
2. Aon PLC. Salary Increase and Turnover Study -Second Edition. November 2021.
3. Agrawal, S.; De Smet, A.; Poplawski, P.; Reich, A. Beyond Hiring: How Companies are Reskilling to Address Talent Gaps. February 2020 survey, Mckinsey and Company.
Mike Hennessy Jr. is the President and CEO of MJH Life Sciences.
Vol. 47, No. 5
When referring to this article, please cite it as Hennessy, M. Young Pups and Leopards. Pharmaceutical Technology 2023 47 (5).