The manpower needs in the pharma industry are foremost in manufacturing, quality assurance, quality control and sales, followed by other functions like HR, IT, and marketing. In this article, we’ll focus on career prospects in the top key domains of the pharma industry.
Sales: One of the first roles to be directly impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak was sales. Face-to-face meetings became impossible as businesses were forced to shut down as part of the lockdown and organisations quickly adapted by introducing work-from-home for business continuity. Telemedicine, video conferencing, WhatsApp, emails, videos, digital content, and similar tools helped the salesforce to carry on their operations despite the travel and meeting restrictions. The entire information-gathering, information-dissemination and selling process has moved to online modes, and the sales and delivery including invoicing-with-digital-signatures and digital-payments, obviating the need for any physical documentation. Sales teams have adjusted to this new style of working and organisations have been specifically training their existing sales manpower on mastering the remote interaction skills. This has not only led to enhanced productivity but has been highly cost-efficient as well. Pharma companies have reported higher daily call productivity now per MR, with the shift from doctor-visits to video calls with doctors. Costs have come down due to no travel, and this trend is expected to persist and grow in the new normal.
Technology-harnessing, globalisation and the above sales-led behavioural changes are now the new normal in pharma. The uptick in pharma sales with unprecedented growth over previous year sales’ volumes despite the lockdowns, has revived sales-hiring and training of new members into sales teams.
Quality control, quality assurance and R&D: The lockdown restrictions implemented initially made working at pharma manufacturing locations and their testing laboratories difficult. However, it also soon ushered in training for the staff on new working protocols and tools to not just preserve but also enhance health and safety standard operating processes (SOPs) governing the regulations around health, safety and sanitisation. It is to the credit of the Indian pharma sector that they were able to implement these enhanced SOPs quickly by training their QA, QC workforce, and successfully service the demands from not just domestic markets, but global markets as well.
Manufacturing: As an early adopter of technology, the pharma industry has started incorporating emerging technologies to lead the digital transformation push. Elements of artificial intelligence, data science, cloud computing, IoT and robotic process automation are being leveraged at different levels of the organisation, with manufacturing being at its core. The adoption of these technologies increased manifold when the pandemic disrupted the industry and, thus, helped organisations enhance the efficiency of processes in manufacturing operations and business.
Automation is being adopted by the pharma industry to enhance its efforts to reduce costs and avoid human errors as well as ensure that physical-distancing norms are maintained. Moreover, managing a globally distributed workforce across multiple time-zones is more efficient and effective using automation. It helps to track data across the entire information management life-cycle – be it capturing data, analysing data or acting on data-insights for better decision-making.
Preparing the pharma workforce for the future
The major challenge is finding the right talent with niche skills. Hence, pharma companies need to focus on upskilling or reskilling their existing workforce to take up newly defined roles and deploy them on these positions immediately.
When faced with uncertainty, resilience becomes a top priority for firms. Skill development is pivotal in this VUCA world, where every job gets quickly transformed or becomes redundant. The pandemic has highlighted the significance of investing in skilling the existing workforce in the pharma industry. New skillsets are emerging – both hard skills and soft skills – to ensure employees have the agility, problem-solving skills, collaboration and innovation skills to continue to remain relevant in the changed scenario. Skills in cutting edge technologies further reinforce and enhance their ability to deal with the new normal. Areas that urgently needed upskilling in the pharma industry are listed below:
Upskilling for drug discovery: Skills required to ensure a shortened time to market for new drugs by training the R&D teams on various elements in the drug discovery value chain.
Upskilling for drug manufacturing: Training the manufacturing employees on end-to-end manufacturing processes for formulations to create a multi-skilled shopfloor workforce that can be deployed in any one or more areas of manufacturing.
Upskilling on drug regulations and regulatory policy/environment: With more than 50 per cent of India’s pharma manufacturing catering to exports, and with the US being the largest market, it has become critical to train the workforce on USFDA protocols/processes and documentation requirements.
Upskilling on technology applications: Readying for IR 4.0 by training in areas like IoT, automation, data-analytics and cloud-computing, digital marketing, etc.
Upskilling on innovation, creativity and data-insights for radical research: Need for skilling scientists in R&D on skills to discover new molecules, new formulations, discover new therapy to diagnose and treat the root causes rather than symptoms of various ailments.
The pharma industry has been witnessing high growth consistently, owing to increased public attention to immunity, health and safety. The development and trials of vaccines for COVID-19 are being closely watched by nearly everyone, as almost all people, in some way or the other, have been affected by the pandemic. Pharma companies thus require skilled talent to perform varied roles with the utmost care. With the right skills, employees can play a pivotal role in changing the healthcare sector, its outcomes, and the world at large.