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Hiring in pharma expected to pick up post lock down: Mayank Chandra, Antal International

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Functional areas like sales, clinical research, pharmacovigilance, legal, marketing, digital marketing etc. will see increased demand for talent, says Mayank Chandra, Managing Partner Antal International Network, Lucknow. But even with slightly more optimistic prospects than other sectors, employees, whether field or office based staff, will have to adjust to a new normal

India is now in the third phase of COVID-19 lockdown, with most of the corporate India working from home. As the debate turns to when, and not if, the lockdown lifts, employees are wondering whether they will have jobs to return to. With two months of no revenues, companies are shedding layers. Layoffs, furloughs, and voluntary resignations, in marquee companies no less, are becoming more common.

And the spate is set to continue. Mindful of the diktat not to lay off employees during the lockdown, many companies could be gearing up to hand out pink slips once employees resume.

For once, the pharmaceutical sector could be one of the few bright spots. Hiring in the pharma sector is expected to pick up post the lock down, according to Mayank Chandra, Managing Partner Antal International Network, Lucknow.

Mayank Chandra, Managing Partner Antal International Network, Lucknow

Unlike other manufacturing sectors like automobiles, manufacturing facilities of the pharmaceutical and medical sectors were and continue to be exempt from lockdown restrictions. As ‘essential services’,   pharma companies needed to churn out life-saving medicines while adhering to physical distancing and sanitation norms.

Indeed, the lockdown has seen demand for medicines rising, rather than falling. While demand for medicines as a non-discretionary expense is not new, the pandemic has highlighted the new expectations from the sector and professionals associated with it.

For instance, pharma companies struggled to fulfill orders during the initial phases of the lockdown, due to the lack of inputs materials and disrupted supply chains. Staff were unable or unwilling to reach the manufacturing plant, with some instances of police beating up staff on their way to manufacturing plants.

But after a harrowing fortnight or so, the situation slowly eased. The government stepped in to ease restrictions with e-passes for employees of pharma manufacturing facilities. Employers installed sanitation tunnels and hand sanitisers at prominent locations across the factory premises. Staff members were rotated in shifts and some companies even made arrangements for employees to stay within the manufacturing premises so that they did not have to travel back to their families to prevent any possible transmission.

Thus while the pandemic shut done other sectors, the pharma sector revved up.

As Chandra elaborates, hiring in the pharma sector is currently selective and on critical assignments but companies are expecting the hiring to go up post lockdown. The medical device sector is slow at the moment but will open up after lockdown.

Functional areas like sales, clinical research, pharmacovigilance, legal, marketing, digital marketing etc. will see increased demand for talent, according to Chandra.

New normal for pharma

But even with slightly rosier prospects, pharma employees, whether field or office based staff, will have to adjust to a new normal. As Chandra warns, “It will be a client driven market and hence survival of the fittest” will be the mantra.

He therefore suggests that employees will need to learn to handle pressure, sustain in spite of the ambiguity, have good sales skills, and be technically strong in their respective domains.

Will certain departments like marketing and IT see some churn as pharma companies lay off staff to hire younger more tech savvy talent? Chandra asserts that candidates with strong domain expertise should do well.

But if the COVD-19 pandemic does not come under control as expected, the uncertainty will continue and pharma employees too could be looking at salary cuts, layoff etc. The role of the human resources department becomes crucial in such uncertain times. Candidate engagement is a critical aspect for HR, both for existing employees as well as new hires says Chandra.

All workplaces will have to factor in such measures like quarantine, physical distancing. This will impact hiring trends with companies restricting themselves to “need based hiring to maintain physical distancing.”

WFH, more confidentiality agreements

The silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic is that it has proved that once guidelines and infrastructure are put in place, Work from Home (WFH) could work out to be a good long term bet.

While the IT sector has been the pioneer in adopting the WFH option, there are promising signs that the pharma sector is now open to the same path.

Will the pharma sector be open to increasing the number of employees who work from home (WFH)? What precautions will they have to take to maintain data confidentiality/security, productivity, team building etc?

Chandra agrees that the pharma sector is quite mature and organised with strong IT infra so WFH can continue, to maintain physical distancing for commercial roles.

Pharma employees can also expect more confidentiality agreements as part of the new normal.

“Data confidentiality is a critical aspect for the pharma sector so they will sign more confidentiality agreements and will put in place strong firewalls systems. Pharma companies will also use safer platforms like Microsoft teams rather than Zoom for WebEx,” he says.

The new acceptance to WFH will also open the market for more women talent in the pharma sector, especially those who have had to take career breaks for family reasons and are now looking to return to part time assignments.

Chandra agrees that a WFH policy can open more opportunities for women if they have the necessary space and support systems at home as productivity is critical in these trying times. While this can’t be possible for production related positions but is possible for roles in finance, marketing, etc.

Thus while the COVID-19 pandemic has definitely disrupted our live and work as we knew it, it has proved the time worn adage, the only constant is change. Will the sector live up to expectations to supply medicines, come what may? And will employees survive the turmoil of navigating the new normal?

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