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Skilling for sustainable growth

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Ranjit Madan, CEO, LSSDC, emphasises on the need for skilling workforce in the life sciences vertical to propel its growth

Ranjit Madan

The line dividing ‘demographic dividend’ and ‘demographic debacle’ is thin. Much has been touted about India’s ability to reap the former, endowed as it fortunately is with a young population with an average age below 30, almost 10 years lower than the average age of most other nations. However, this dividend is contingent upon India’s ability to skill its youthful population. The task is challenging. At this point, with under five per cent of its workforce classified as skilled, India finds itself at the bottom of the table in comparison to other nations. Countries like China, Germany, Japan, Australia, the UK, the US, Canada, South Korea boast of between 50 to 97 per cent of their total workforce being skilled.

Skilled work force percentage

Somewhere the country has missed a trick in regard to skilling its youth. As PM Modi aptly put it, ‘the best time was around 68 years ago……the next best time is now!’

As the country and its youth look to a new era, replete with ‘Make in India’ and other such energetic campaigns which promise much hope, the challenge of rapidly skilling the workforce remains, debatably, the most challenging task. Life sciences sector, comprising pharma, biotech and clinical research, is no exception. That the sector is a shining beacon, and possibly the only sector which can take pride for already being in the ‘Made in India’ zone, despite shortage of skilled workforce, speaks volumes. Organisations in life sciences, export to around 200 countries. One in every three tablets sold around the world is ‘Made in India’; one in every three vaccines given to children around the world is ‘Made in India’. No surprise then that India is now called a ‘Pharmacy of the world’. A proud achievement!

Minister of Skills and Entrepreneurship, Rajiv Pratap Rudy at fifth GB meeting of LSSSDC Key stakeholders and general body members of LSSSDC

The sector needs to press on towards higher value added drugs, with much greater emphasis on innovation. Scaling the ‘Innovate in India’ summit, puts yet greater emphasis on skilling the youth, given that the sector is growing at almost 16 per cent per year. There are myriad issues like inadequate skilling infrastructure, insufficient pool of trainers, inadequate funds (life sciences require expensive equipment to skill youth) and many more. Most importantly, and as is the case in most other sectors, there is the key issue of disconnect between the supply side (schools, colleges and training institutions i.e. academia) and demand (employers i.e. industry). Basically, since Independence, the country has been churning out students with degrees and diplomas, with inadequate attention to the requirement of the industry. A paradigm shift is needed to move from a ‘supply stipulated’ to a ‘demand determined’ model.

Life Sciences Sector Skill Development Council (LSSSDC), under the able guidance of newly formed Ministry of Skills, CII; Chairmanship of Satish Reddy (Chairman, Dr Reddy’s Lab) and its governing body ( which has practically each active association on its governing council), aims to bring about precisely this kind of shift.

Skilled work force percentage

With support of associations and its members, and key stakeholders, the council has developed standards (known as ‘occupation standards’) for about 60 key job roles, which account for almost 90 per cent of the job volume of the sector — currently put at eight lakhs. Of these, the four most important have been validated by the industry and are now classified as ‘National Occupation Standards or NOS’.

With industry support, curriculums and content have been developed for these four, and training partners are being accredited to impart skilling in major clusters. With ‘Master Trainers’, nominated by the industry, a pool of certified trainers is being created, which currently totals over 120.

Content manual developed with industry input e.g for skilling MSRs

Since the job role of medical sales representative (MSR) accounts for almost a quarter of the total job volume of the sector, special emphasis is being given to this. Leveraging government’s incentive programme (Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana or PMKVY), over 40 training partners in 16 states will be skilling almost 5000 students, as MSRs in the current quarter. Those certified are expected to get meaningful employment in the industry as MSRs. There are also plans to assess currently employed MSRs, under ‘Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL)’. To facilitate this, LSSSDC is engaged in having e-content available on a mobile app. This will enable MSRs who, after assessment, are found weak in certain areas, focusing specifically on those (at a time of their choosing) using the mobile app. Resultant up-skilling of MSRs through this would raise productivity of sales force and benefit the industry. Interestingly, LSSSDC recently conducted a Pilot RPL, involving 500 MSRs from 10 of the largest Indian and MNC pharma companies. Pass per cent was found to be 59 per cent.

Over the next few months, standards set for a further over 50 job roles are expected to be validated by the industry. A veritable buffet of job roles would then be available for interested training partners, to impart skilling in a cross section of job roles, across levels and functional areas. Some of these, such as research associate product development, research associate process development, scientist clinical research development and bio process engineer will catalyse innovation. Successful skilling of youth in such job roles will be key to the sector’s success in repositioning itself as one that has successfully transitioned beyond ‘Make in India’!

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