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Business & Regulation Profession

Talent Spotting

Featuring Brett Sharkey, Learning & Development Business Partner, and Mary Christensen, Global Manager, Talent Acquisition, both at Sterling Pharma Solutions

Why is there a shortage of new talent coming into the industry?

Mary Christensen: From what we have seen, the shortage of new talent entering the pharma industry is being influenced by numerous factors, including the appeal of alternative emerging fields such as tech, or the desire to stay in academia to pursue further ambitions in teaching and research. It’s important for pharma companies to  create a positive reputation in the industry for employees, and provide career development opportunities. We offer an attractive referral program for recruitment, and can therefore bring in many new hires, based on the experiences they hear from current staff. 

Which subject areas are in highest demand in pharma right now?

Brett Sharkey: Mechanical and electrical engineering skills are in demand throughout pharma and related sectors. Pharma manufacturing skills are difficult, and where there are geographic clusters of rival companies, the competition for talent makes recruitment and retention of these experienced staff more difficult. Recruiting PhD-level development chemists has always been competitive, and there is also great demand for scientists with specific skills in analysis and analytical method development, process chemistry, process control, as well as regulatory affairs.

MC: There is a major focus on recruitment for commercial and engineering roles across the CDMO space in general. As many research companies have been restructured and suffered cutbacks, CDMOs have been planning to expand sites and capabilities; they are recruiting to increase their commercial and engineering teams, ensuring they are in place ahead of the next surge of demand.

Is there a problem with young talent preferring big pharma companies over smaller players?

MC: Though we do see some talent wanting to move into big pharma for the reputation and additional benefits (such as stock options), many prefer a smaller employer because they have the opportunity to learn a diverse range of skills and grow with the business. In many cases, young talent will base decisions based on career opportunities, location, and reputation of employers.

What is Sterling doing to attract younger talent?

MC: We use internships, apprenticeships, and a graduate program to create career pipelines into Sterling. The internship program offers students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience, while allowing us the opportunity to assess potential future hires during their development and learning. Our apprenticeship and graduate programs provide a learning environment that helps younger talent integrate into the industry. In addition, we have training and development opportunities within the company that can attract individuals seeking career growth.

It is rewarding for the company to have these opportunities for talent development, allowing access to fresh perspectives, succession planning, and increased diversity. Bringing in younger talent and investing in their career growth and development has been shown to improve our retention rates.

Do you do any school outreach?

 BS: We strategically engage through a number of initiatives – from large-scale regional STEM events and school careers fairs to mock interviews for school leavers. We also promote early interaction with younger children at schools to broadly introduce them to science and the process manufacturing sector.

MC: Our talent acquisition team proactively coordinates with different schools to bring students onsite to meet with our team members, tour the facilities and learn about potential career opportunities that are applicable to the education and experience they have.

How do you encourage staff to continue their careers at the company?

BS: We map all employee career pathways within the company so that they can see a clearly defined future in the organization. We support managers and employees with the creation of individualized development plans, which help staff gain experience that can aid them in their next career move. We also pay professional development course fees for our staff, which helps to keep them engaged in their work, while improving the performance of the business.

When recruiting young talent, what do you look for?

BS: In terms of apprenticeships, the answer varies! It will often depend on the role, but for entry-level positions, we are ideally looking for a keen interest in science, engineering, manufacturing, and/or math. The best delegates at the interview stage are those who are keen to understand how things work and eager to learn and progress. Motivation is difficult to “train” into somebody, so drive can be more important than academic grades when it comes to entry-level roles.

Anyone looking at a career at a particular company should spend time learning about the organization through information sources. At Sterling, we are a values-based organization, so an appreciation of our values, vision, and mission are always a good place to prepare for an interview.

MC: Overall, our approach to selecting the right talent aligns with our core values: be transparent, be willing, be reliable, be caring. We seek individuals who possess the required skills and minimum qualifications, but also demonstrate a commitment to excellence.

The pharma industry is a fantastic place to work. How can the industry as a whole better sell itself to young talent?

BS: For companies working in the same geographic region, where the talent pool of experienced staff is limited, pharma manufacturers should look to come together and create an aligned campaign to drive talent towards our sector. I think we would benefit from helping young people understand what the pharma sector does, what process manufacturing is, and how the sector can provide rewarding careers. This needs to start in schools, with employers helping to shape science and math curriculum, and promoting greater understanding of how this sets students up for employment. 

MC: As a whole, the industry could increase efforts in showcasing the positive impact of pharma work on global health. More outreach programs to universities and schools to educate students about career opportunities in the industry would also help. We have attended many events where students are not aware of the opportunities that exist in the industry – or how to get into it even if they wanted to.

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About the Author
Stephanie Vine

Making great scientific magazines isn’t just about delivering knowledge and high quality content; it’s also about packaging these in the right words to ensure that someone is truly inspired by a topic. My passion is ensuring that our authors’ expertise is presented as a seamless and enjoyable reading experience, whether in print, in digital or on social media. I’ve spent fourteen years writing and editing features for scientific and manufacturing publications, and in making this content engaging and accessible without sacrificing its scientific integrity. There is nothing better than a magazine with great content that feels great to read.

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