But some traditional career tracks may soon be disappearing, or silently moving offshore. “Here in the U.S., demand for workers in pharmaceutical sales will continue to shrink due to industry mergers, increased use of digital marketing and stricter regulations that limit sales reps’ contact with physicians and healthcare providers,” says John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an executive placement firm based in Chicago. “Meanwhile in R&D, big pharmaceutical companies appear to be cutting their budgets and staffs, though they still remain large, and concentrating them into specialty drugs,” he adds.
Today, there is increased demand for experts in drug development and commercialization. In fact, there is a shortage of professionals with the ideal skill sets. Often, companies have had to hire foreign graduates to fill these positions. But, as the U.S. government restricts the number of H1B visas it grants to foreign professionals, some positions have become quite difficult to fill.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), for the first time since 2008, 124,000 H1B visa petitions were received for 2014 by the first week in April. A lottery was hold to meet the cap of 65,000 and masters cap of 20,000, USCIS reported.
All this change is having an impact on the way that pharma professionals approach their jobs and career planning. Where, 10 years ago, few people were willing to relocate, even to another state within the U.S., today more people are moving to other parts of the world, recognizing that global experience will add luster to their resumes.
Pharma’s huge mergers have taken their toll (Box, p. 74), and recent news of Pfizer potentially buying AstraZeneca has led to some wild speculation on the impact that a merger of that size could have on the industry. Some are skeptical that real change is taking place. “We keep hearing that the market is improving,” says Maryellen Ruvolo, CEO of PharmStorm, an employment website launched last year, “but we keep forgetting that companies laid off thousands and are now hiring hundreds.” Layoffs at Actavis and Forest Labs had a huge impact on professionals based in her area, the northeastern U.S., in New Jersey and Long Island, she says.
However, even if the numbers are not huge, hiring is on the rebound, and respondents to Contract Pharma’s 2014 Salary and Job Survey describe themselves as rather happy in their positions, and relatively secure, if somewhat stressed. Most expect to be moving on in the next five years. This article will look at hiring trends and summarize results of this year’s survey.
The brightest spot appears to be biopharma. “The biotech boom has been going on for the past two years and isn’t letting up,” says Megan Driscoll, president and founder of PharmaLogics Recruiting, whose Boston-area-based company has doubled revenue every year since 2011. “Today, we see a lack of good candidates. It’s a strong labor market,” she says.
However, the emphasis is on the “D” rather than the “R” in R&D. In addition, the skills required today have changed considerably. (For a sample job description, see Box, p. 76)
Unfortunately, what is lacking in most job applicants today is the “soft skills,” recruiters agree. Especially important is the ability to lead and influence others, Jensen says.
“Today, companies are using a matrix employment structure, so people don’t typically manage a large number of employees. However they need to be able to demonstrate influence and authority.”
“Success today has less to do with technical acumen than it does with emotional IQ,” says Driscoll. “There are a lot of niched experts out there, but what employers are looking for is the ability to work on teams, unusual skills and leadership. You have to be able to present your subject of expertise well, and to communicate to people varying backgrounds,” he says. “Social skills are very important.”
Challenger blames the industry for allowing a mismatch between needs and skills to happen. “There may be a shortage of workers with the right mix of technical and nontechnical skills to ‘hit the ground running’, he says. “However, the industry may be partly to blame for not spending the time and money to develop its own workforce.”
He quotes a 2013 industry blog on talent shortages: “There are specific skill sets such as regulatory affairs, alliance management, that are not learned in a classroom environment but are acquired on the job. Companies are looking for these skills but only want to hire people that already have experience in these areas, ignoring the simple fact that a very smart person (i.e. layed-off [sic] scientist) could easily be trained in these skills…”
Soft skills are always important in any industry or workplace, Challenger says. When they are lacking in technical positions in pharma, he says, the result can be difficulties communicating with colleagues, superiors, and subordinates. “Lack of communication or writing skills, poor leadership due to lack of training, all can lead to instances of low morale, or worst case, a talent drain,” he adds.
Jensen suggests that industry and universities work together to solve this problem. “Universities are slow to change, and some grads emerge as if they were miniprofessors, and aren’t prepared, don’t know how to handle projects,” he says. “Universities and companies need to coordinate training and to focus on soft skills.”
There is no more “on the job training,” Jensen says. Maybe someone gets hired to the cGMP group and gets sent to a course, but then they need to dive in.” In short, job seekers need to educate themselves, he says.
Another change is that pharmaceutical companies are seeing themselves as more global, Driscoll says. This may be ironic since pharma has always been considered one of the more international industries. But this has brought change to the way pharma professionals view relocation.
“Mergers and acquisitions, as well as exploring untapped markets, have made the pharmaceutical industry global. It may not be a given that top executives need to work abroad, but those with international experience and expertise will be viewed as more attractive as more and more companies bring their products overseas,” Challenger says, noting that this trend cuts across all industries. “Our economy is shifting, and all industries will want leaders who know the ins and outs of international business.
In the past, relocation was a big deal, Driscoll says, and people stayed in one place for a really long time. Today, the mindset is changing. “U.S. employees used to be confined to a state or country, but now our discussions are much broader and people are more open about moving overseas. I see that as a shift, “she says.”Even if companies aren’t offering any tangible incentives such as cushy relocation packages, candidates are willing to make the move, seeing that it makes them more marketable,” Driscoll says.
But what do Contract Pharma readers have to say about their salaries and jobs? Most of you say you feel great, good or pretty good about your job. (Figure 1). Nearly 40% of you said you are satisfied or very satisfied with your compensation levels (Figure 2). 72% of you say you have received raises (Figure 3), Only 4.7 of you say you’ve taken pay cuts (Figure 4) and roughly 7% say their benefits were reduced (Figure 5).
96% of respondents said they were not layed off last year (Figure 6), 16% say they have had to lay others off, and around 31% say their department’s budget has been reduced (Figure 9).
Responses were quite interesting on the topic of life-work balance. Only 7% said it was extremely easy to achieve. Some readers describe having to do more with fewer people. Most respondents describe having three weeks of vacation each year, but half of the respondents say they didn’t take all their vacation last year. “At my level, it is a given that one never takes all one’s vacation,” writes one respondent.
Many describe a high level of stress. Complains one respondent, “I’m taking work home at night and on weekends.” Another describes always being “on.”
Recruiters say this level of stress is a given today, and it’s a phenomenon that goes well beyond pharma. Some of this may be due to globalization, says Driscoll. When you are working with colleagues, especially in Europe, who have more work holidays than we do here in the U.S., who turn off their cell phones during vacations, and who may not use instant messaging that frequently, it can remind one of cultural differences and exacerbate stress.
Challenger notes that smart companies will provide incentives to attract and retain talent. That may mean allowing flexible work schedules, telecommuting, or fostering an environment where one would want to come every day, including free meals, a gym, day care, and other perks. If these kinds of perks are not available and the worker feels overworked or underappreciated, they may look at other opportunities,” he says.
Jensen sees this as inevitable, and a trend that affects us all. “Access is far more than simply 9 to 5 today,” he says.” This is a new phenomenon. We’ve always had workaholics, but now a majority of people are affected.”
There is no question that pharma mergers have reshaped the hiring landscape (Table). A trend that was once seen only in Big Pharma is also moving to generics, with several of the leading generics drugs manufacturers, such as Teva, Actavis and Forest Labs announcing major layoffs recently.
Opinion is divided on whether or not these mergers benefit the industry. A recent McKinsey study1 suggests that they do, although a paper published by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government found them to have a negative impact on innovation.2
Pfizer’s bid for AstraZeneca provoked negative reactions from most industry professionals, and AstraZeneca’s CEO, in his response to the bid, specifically mentioned the potentially negative impact on pharma professionals.
“We’ve seen mergers of this nature in the past, specifically in 2009/2010 when Pfizer merged with Wyeth and Merck merged with Schering-Plough,” says Challenger. “These combined companies caused thousands of layoffs, near 40,000 between the four entities.”
Professionals at the acquired company are often in the greatest jeopardy, says PharmaStorm’s Ruvolo. Challenger suggests that employees from both the companies involved in a merger prepare themselves for the possibility that their jobs may be in jeopardy. “Surviving a megamerger isn’t always easy even if your job is secure,” he says. New leadership, policies, and expectations may not gel with an employee’s work style and he or she may decide the situation is no longer a good fit.
“Merging companies need to assess where their strengths are in their new employee base and avoid the exodus of talent, while employees need to be able to express, both verbally and with hard evidence, how the company can benefit from their work,” he says.
Sometimes, CMOs and contract services firms offer an alternative for professionals changing jobs. Jensen mentions industrial biotech and nutraceuticals as potential outlets for displaced pharma professionals.
But being proactive is key, and pharma professionals need to think about this long before a merger happens, Driscoll says.
1. Cha, M. and Lorriman, T., Why Pharma Megamergers work, McKinsey & Co Insights & Publications
2. Scherer, F. and Comanor, W., Mergers and Innovation in the Pharmaceutical Market, Harvard Kennedy School, 2012.
A recent biotech job posting provides insights into many of the requirements for professionals today. Would you have the soft skills required for this position
Global Head, Development, Biologics Contract Manufacturing
This year, 285 people responded to the 2014 survey, 44% of them working for contract services sponsors and the rest for contract services providers. 73% of respondents work in pharma, the remainder in biopharma, and most are in R&D, QA/QC and sales and marketing. Most of those who responded this year (47%) say that they supervise one to four people. In addition, 70% of respondents were men. Most (37%) have M.S. level educations. Full survey results will be available on contractpharma.com.