The pharma industry is steaming ahead with the development of new medicines and technologies, but is it attracting the talent it needs to continue its current success? Industry experts share their tips on how companies can improve their hiring tactics…
Maryam Mahdi | | 5 min read | Interview
Meet the Contributors
Do you think young people are aware of the career options available to them in pharma?
Singhal: It would be hard to miss that pharma is one of today’s fastest-growing industries, but we can do more to inform young people about the opportunities that exist for those with math and computer science degrees. Pharma is heavily reliant on state-of-the-art technology and medicine; many young graduates with backgrounds in life sciences, chemistry, mathematics, operational research, and other disciplines can find fulfilling careers in the industry. Pharma offers a plethora of career paths, including research, sales, manufacturing, quality, and data analytics (which is particularly hot right now). And no matter which pharma career path a new grad chooses, knowing they are in the business of improving patient lives should be hugely satisfying!
Jacoby: It has always been difficult to showcase the roles available in the pharma industry. There are a wide range of drug types and areas of focus – from supply chains to IT to development to clinical – and different skillsets are needed for each. Because of the variety and complexities of these roles, there is a lack of awareness of just how many options there really are in the industry and what type of background is necessary for each.
Bowen: I think there is awareness, but mostly among those seeking roles as scientists or engineers. Very few are aware of the various innovation-focused roles in the life sciences or the technologies used in the industry, unless it has formed a part of their degree or studies.
How are pharma companies promoting open positions?
Jacoby: There are different websites on which companies advertise positions. Most pharmaceutical organizations also have dedicated career pages on their websites with job listings, as well as a presence on LinkedIn and other social media outlets. Attending career fairs at universities and providing internship opportunities are also good ways for pharma companies to promote careers.
Singhal: Companies should consider partnering with colleges and participating in activities such as guest lectures, career fairs, and webinars to teach young graduates about the lucrative career paths in pharma. It’s also possible to partner with industry associations, such as the Pharmaceutical Management Science Association (PMSA), a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to raise awareness of and promote the use of management science in the pharma industry. At Axtria, we also conduct periodic educational seminars, training programs, and the occasional hack-a-thon to target young professionals who possess specific skills and excite them with cool problems to solve!
Do pharma companies have any concerns about recruiting and retaining young talent?
Jacoby: Yes, but I don’t know how seriously they take it because there are no unions in pharmaceutical companies. I have seen a change in the industry’s push to cut costs with greater outsourcing, fewer employee perks, and less access to pensions and other attractive benefits. All of that is unfortunate, because most candidates are passionate about working in the field. I’d like to see the industry reward hardworking candidates more.
Singhal: For us, the biggest concern with recruiting young or relatively inexperienced talent is finding ways to make individuals productive early in their careers. For them to be effective, young talent must have the required technical, functional, and soft skills, as well as a solid understanding of the pharma domain. This calls for significant investment in their learning and development. Not many organizations have a learning and development process that can really handle the scope of this task.
Another challenge of retaining talent is that employees become more valuable in the market as they acquire these skills. Organizations must invest in robust talent management and retention strategies to ensure that their employees have a clear career path, continuous growth and learning opportunities, ample recognition, and meaningful work.
Bowen: With the biotech sector’s rapid growth, it is difficult to hire and retain staff – and has been for some time. As new, more flexible technologies become available to the life science industry and pharma shifts toward new manufacturing methods, it’s a great time for new hires to enter the field.
What is today’s workforce looking for in an employer?
Bowen: The labor market is short on resources and today’s applicants have high expectations. Companies need to meet them to attract and retain talent. Today’s workforce is looking for modern, flexible ways of working. The old ways of doing things do not appeal to younger workers. They want modern technology that feels comfortable and familiar as they work within a lab or suite environment. In addition, access to enhanced training materials and guided workflows that allow them to work with confidence is key to ensuring success. They’re also looking to their employers to help them establish a career path.
Singhal: The pandemic has significantly changed the way people look at life. The workforce is looking for greater flexibility to integrate their work and personal lives. Consequently (as Keith points out), employers must change their expectations.
Wellness has also assumed a new dimension, with increased emphasis on socio-emotional and mental wellbeing. Employees now expect their employers to play a more significant role in their holistic wellness. As they search for more meaning in their lives, employees are looking for jobs that help them achieve a larger purpose, allowing them to contribute to the betterment of society.
What tips would you give to hiring managers who are looking to recruit young talent?
Bowen: Social media is the number one way young people communicate today. Companies should engage with platforms such as YouTube and Twitter to respond to the day-to-day questions potential recruits may have about roles!
Companies can also get involved with universities and students prior to graduating, so that they understand the potential opportunities out there.
Singhal: I would emphasize that it is essential to strike the right balance between coaching and managing. As a coach, you should help young talent uncover their strengths, motivations, and priorities, leading them to discover the right career path. As a manager, you should encourage young recruits to see how the big picture relates to both their life and the organization’s purpose.