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Is the Pharmaceutical Sector facing a Leadership Skills Gap?

Is the Pharmaceutical Sector facing a Leadership Skills Gap?


Is the Pharmaceutical Sector facing a Leadership Skills Gap?
Last Updated: 20-Nov-2013

It is no secret that there is a shortage of professional skill sets in the life sciences and pharmaceutical sector, and nowhere is this more keenly felt than in the area of Biostatistics where experienced professionals are in demand all across Europe.  One of the results of this shortage is that employers have to become more innovative in how they attract and retain talent which has led to initiatives around flexible work /life balance arrangements such as home based working positions.  However, while on the surface these employment policies would be seen as laudable, could they also be storing up trouble for the future?  Could pharmaceutical professionals be potentially damaging their long term career development?  And from the employers’ perspective could they be causing a blockage in the talent pipeline of the next generation of leaders?

There is no doubt that the pharmaceutical sector has faced some tough challenges in recent years. As clinical trials became more expensive, many firms were forced to rationalise their research and development spending and the trend towards outsourcing to clinical research organisations (CROs) became far more prevalent.  The professionals most in demand now include technical experts who understand the software surrounding clinical trial data reporting, statisticians who can define what the data is and managers who can manage the transition of the data and follow its evolution through the different trials.

This demand is set to skyrocket as the sector approaches a patent cliff and the pressure to get new drugs onto the market intensifies. This shortage of experienced candidates in this area – particularly permanent employees - has led to a sharp rise in employers offering the ability to work from home and/or part time in order to attract the skills that they need from a broader pool of candidates. These types of initiatives are obviously very attractive to candidates and it is easy to see how this can be seen as a sensible attraction tool - especially if there is a geographical disconnect between the role and the candidate.  Additionally, these specialist skills are extremely difficult to draw out – job security is high and tempting people to move is difficult. Consequently the candidates with the right skill sets are in very high demand.

However, over the past 18 months the market has seen a dramatic increase in home based working roles – especially for Biostatistics professionals - and now employers are increasingly concerned about how the next generation of leaders is being developed.   One of the problems is that there are increasing numbers of mid-level staff including Programmers and Biostatisticians  who are opting for a work/life balance and choosing to work from home rather than selecting the option of working onsite.  Why is this a problem? Because onsite they can learn from the senior people within their teams and develop their networks for the benefit of their future careers.

It is perfectly understandable for senior professionals, who may have spent 10 years or more onsite within a pharmaceutical company or CRO, to want to opt for home based role. They will have built up their networks, developed a reputation in their niche market and honed their technical skills. However, the significant increase in mid-level experienced candidates opting for a home based role could become detrimental to their development into more leadership positions as their management experience has been limited to leading biostatistics teams remotely.  Consequently, when employers are looking to hire in experienced managers, trying to identify candidates with sufficient leadership experience in a structured environment has been very difficult.  And for candidates aspiring to move into that leadership role – being able to demonstrate that management ability is increasingly challenging.  For the pharmaceutical sector it seems, the war for talent may only just be beginning.

Nick Bryce is a Senior Consultant specialising in the Life Sciences sector at Twenty Recruitment