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Alexander Mann Solutions

Alexander Mann Solutions


Alexander Mann Solutions
Last Updated: 16-Jun-2016

The culture of the pharmaceutical sector reveres talent and experience above all else – and with good reason. However, at a time when cuts in government spending, patent cliffs, significant talent shortages, and shifts in business focus between therapeutic areas are all threatening the stability of the sector, how can organisations best manage their workforces to ensure future success and profitability?

As a historically cash-rich industry, pharma has long had the freedom to hire at will, often from within, but bold new business models coupled with drives towards efficiency are rapidly changing talent needs. The traditional approach to managing skill shortages has been to draft in expertise with little consideration to cost. While this strategy has worked well in the past, at a time when those hiring may well be concurrently overseeing exercises in downsizing elsewhere in the business, it seems nonsensical not to explore more thoroughly the possibility of cross-training existing employees.

The staffing challenges facing the pharmaceutical industry are deep rooted and complex. Many stem from the fact that business structures have historically been typically very rigid, with individual departments working largely in silos, often with no ‘helicopter view’ of talent across an organisation. In addition, as there are few distinct differentiators between individual organisations in terms of EVP and employer branding, talent attraction strategies can lack clout. Add to that the fact that pharma industry HR and hiring teams can sometimes struggle to understand shifting, complex skill sets and opportunities to be gained in terms of ‘growing your own’ talent, reskilling, relocating or working more flexibly, and it is no wonder that there is much to be gained by taking a more strategic approach to workforce planning.

Redeploying staff, either to different geographies or therapeutic areas, is one way that pharma companies may be able to gain a real advantage over their competitors. Cross-training staff also has the added benefit of creating a more agile, efficient and collaborative workforce, as well as acting as a strong defence against ‘irreplaceable’ employees. Other sectors are already recognising the benefits of cross-training professionals. For example, a recent report from The Energy Institute and Deloitte has found that, in light of a looming retirement cliff, 70 per cent of energy companies do not have sufficient leadership talent to meet future challenges. It subsequently recommends that companies in the field re-skill and cross-train existing staff to combat the decline in scientific, engineering and technical (SET) skills.

Within pharma, emerging markets in particular - which suffer from little depth of talent - could most benefit from enhanced student hiring and leadership development programmes alongside exercises in cross training. The costs involved with traditional three-year secondments and ‘tours of duty’ could be significantly trimmed if specialist skill shortages were addressed long-term by growing and better redeploying talent within an organisation.

In order to implement effective workforce planning strategies, organisations must first gain an impressionistic view of existing talent. Talent and resourcing strategies must stem from an initial understanding of supply and demand. With this in mind, it is astounding how many organisations do not utilise workforce analytics at even the most basic level. For example, even large organisations can be guilty of failing to determine what percentage of their senior leadership team are eligible for retirement in the coming years. In order to build effective, 12,  36 and 60 month plans, pharma companies must not only predict future needs, but also how they plan to fulfil them.

By collecting hard statistics on what skills and expertise a company already has in-situ, and cross referencing this with the talent they are likely to lose in the near future, organisations can map talent across the business. Only by doing this, can firms identify possible opportunities to cross-train, and reap the associated benefits, not only in terms of cost, but also productivity.