Express Pharma

In COVID-19 era, pharma sales turn to digital hires, top-ups in R&D, production, distribution

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Inspite of COVID-19-linked disruptions, Kamal Karanth, Co-founder, Xpheno, a specialist staffing company believes that the long term prospects for the sector remain intact and could even grow in some product categories. 

The irony is that the speed and action in the pharma space, as it races to develop vaccines and medicines against this novel coronavirus, will define the speed of recovery of the population and thereby the recovery of other industries and the economy overall. The pharma sector will have to go through this critical phase while tackling cost and profitability challenges within.

The pharma sector, which accounts for over 2.7 million direct and indirect employees in India, is expected to show a near one-fourth reduction in hiring activity in an already slow headcount growth sector, with a redistribution across functions. Short-term reduction of headcounts in marketing and sales driven by a move to DIGITAL will be countered by top-ups in the R&D function for large players and additions in the production and distribution across most players.

This contraction of almost 50 per cent from previous hiring levels of “feet-on-street armies” of pharma sales personnel is only to be expected, given the movement restrictions that would continue to be in place in the post-COVID era. But the move towards digital marketing will raise “social media noise” bringing its own challenges, predicts Karanth. 

Read on for further details on job redistribution, recommended upskilling strategies, the role of HR in this transition and increasing engagement of remote workers and telecommuters in work from home (WFH) arrangements in the sector in the challenging post-COVID era ahead

Pharma is designated as essential, and many companies are working through the COVID-19 pandemic. Will the sector be hiring more or less in FY21?

The conditions that have emerged in the industry due to COVID does not take away the long trail of pains and shortfalls the industry has been going through over the decade. The over 2.7 million direct and indirect employment that the industry offers stares at a mixed bag of situations arising from revised earnings from large players and a potential increase in activity due to a hyperactive healthcare sector to be serviced.

On the hiring front, however, a near one-fourth reduction in hiring activity in an already slow headcount growth sector will have its impact on net additions for the year. The Top 125 pharma companies that account for over 3.2 lakh employees have had additions of only 5000 and 4000 respectively over the last two years. A further reduction in net addition figures or stagnation should be expected for the year.