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Streamlining the Pharma Employee Experience to Save Patients’ Lives

Digital transformation and COVID-19 have changed the world of work, putting pharma and biotech companies on the same playing field as tech companies. Overcoming resulting skills gaps requires a new approach to talent acquisition. 

COVID-19 has changed everything. In the pharmaceutical and life sciences industry, it’s led to new business models of personalized medicine and sales directly to customers. It’s also resulted in new modalities for gene and cell therapy, among other things. Drug manufacturing has moved to new regions to reduce costs. And competition is increasing. 

All of these disruptions and more translate to a different talent ecosystem than before the pandemic, one that requires new skills. As pharma companies embrace Pharma 4.0 and smarter, automated manufacturing processes, they need flexible workers who can adapt to new roles to address growing skills gaps. Successful companies will invest in reskilling and upskilling.

Assessing the pharma industry landscape

The pharma and biotech industries have traditionally employed workers in four main areas: 

  • R&D — biologists, chemists, clinicians 
  • Support — human resources, finance, statistics, IT, regulatory
  • Commercial — communications, sales and marketing, economics, medical reps
  • Manufacturing and supply — engineers, pharmacists, quality control

Those areas are still important, but the lines are blurring between them as the need for new expertise rises. This evolution is leading to serious skills gaps. 

Even before the onset of the pandemic, biopharma companies faced a shift in manufacturing practices as they started to embrace cell and gene therapies. Finding skilled workers to fill roles in these highly specialized areas proved challenging and threatened to impede innovation. 

“The rise of automation and artificial intelligence (AI), and in particular process analytical technology (PAT), in drug production has brought new opportunities. But it also brings new challenges from a skills perspective,” explains a Lab Manager article. “Biopharma companies struggle to find these skills within the current workforce and are now battling with every other industry sector in the world for ultra-high demand talent.” 

That competition includes the likes of tech giants Facebook and Google. Pharma companies face difficulty in attracting digital talent, such as software developers and data analysts, both of which are in high demand across all industries.

The skills gaps conundrum

A conclusive 87% of respondents to a McKinsey global survey admitted they’re experiencing skills gaps or expect to within five years. Complicating matters, only 40% of pharma companies believe they know which skills are currently needed, according to another McKinsey report, Pharma operations: Creating the workforce of the future. That number drops to less than 25% when looking ahead 10 years. 

In addition, pharma companies need to train workers with new skills. For example, today’s researchers need pricing, sales, and safety skills. Similarly, health economists need to be able to influence clinical trial designs. 

“Finding people with the requisite skills will not be easy, given the breadth of knowledge the industry requires and the battle for brains now being waged in almost every part of the world,” acknowledges PwC in its Pharma 2020 report. “Many companies will therefore have to adopt new talent management strategies.”

The first step to resolution is identifying where the skills gaps lie. Organizations need to know that before they can successfully take action to bridge the gaps. Hiring freelance and contract workers can be a stop-gap measure, but a more permanent solution is needed. The second most common tactic after pursuing freelance and contract workers, according to the McKinsey survey, “is skill building, as accomplished through reskilling programs and other efforts.”

Reskilling typically focuses on building expertise in critical thinking, decision-making, leadership, management and data analysis, the survey found. Somehow, companies have to balance reskilling with the needs of the business. That leaves many of them in a quandary: Do they focus their efforts on a new product launch or on developing skills for the future?

A new approach to talent acquisition

Implementing a talent data platform could eliminate the need to choose between developing skills and launching products. By aggregating data related to internal talent and external candidates, a talent data platform can give business leaders and chief human resource officers visibility into both internal and external talent and their skills to help accelerate new hire onboarding and training, as well as internal mobility. 

By enabling proactive rather than reactive talent planning, a talent data platform empowers companies to pipeline high-priority personas, skills and capabilities. In addition, a platform like this enables internal talent mobility so organizations can keep their top talent by reskilling and upskilling them to find new opportunities within the business. 

A talent data platform employs AI to identify talent with needed skills and prioritize those candidates to the talent acquisition team. The team identifies the core skills and preferences, and the platform maps the needed skills internally. This saves time from looking externally, allowing the company to build a pipeline of internal candidates. 

Engage current and potential employees

It’s imperative for pharma companies to place more emphasis on employee engagement and capability to attract workers. As PwC reported in Q&A on how COVID-19 has changed the pharmaceutical and life sciences workforce, “Those that have invested in the employee experience, digitalization and an agile operating model will be better positioned to emerge from this crisis.” 

The key, PwC continues, is to “instill purpose-driven leadership that connects employees to the shared goal of saving patient lives.” 

A talent data platform can map data points to show any relationships the talent acquisition team wants to track, such as skills, previous jobs, companies and experience. Talent market data and other custom sources can also be added to the mix. This enables faster engagement with the right candidates and improved productivity.

As Cathie Wood, the founder, CEO and CIO of ARK Investment, which has invested in CRISPR gene editing, says, “In a world driven by disruption, make sure you’re on the right side of change.”

Learn how Beamery can help pharma and life sciences companies bridge skills gaps