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Why talent crunch is derailing the pharma sector

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With the demand of skilled resources going up companies now need to look beyond just poaching talent from competition, to expanding their search across sectors and geographies. By Thammaiah BN, MD, Kelly Services India

Thammaiah BN

The Indian pharmaceutical industry is expected to outperform the global pharma industry and grow to $55 billion by 2020. Bio-pharmaceuticals account for the largest share of the biotech industry revenues. Augmenting this boom is the demand for talent that is surging at every level.

While the country has a large pool of scientists and engineers who have the potential to steer the industry to an even higher level, the shortage of the talent pool is still a worrisome reality of today.

Traditionally for the last five to six decades, the Indian pharma has seen a very staid outlook in hiring. Resources hired have been mainly at two levels – graduates at entry level from pharma background and specialists at mid-level from the existing industry pool. There has been very little dynamism in the hiring outlook so far. This landscape is now seeing a drastic change. With the demand of skilled resources going up companies now need to look beyond just poaching talent from competition, to expanding their search across sectors and geographies.

India is the largest provider of generic drugs globally with the Indian generics accounting for 20 per cent of global exports in terms of volume. With several biologics drugs coming off patent, India stands to gain immensely by the upsurge in opportunity in biosimilar manufacturing. Most of the pharma companies are riding this wave, while existing players are also increasing their efforts. By 2020, world emerging markets such as India, Mexico, Turkey, China, Brazil and Russia will represent one-fifth of the total pharma turnover in the world. As per industry projections, around 2.5 million skilled people will be needed by 2022 to maintain this high growth rate.

Policy makers and organisations are beginning to realise that the pharma organisations in India are suffering from the apparent results of qualitative changes, that may include insecurity, low motivation, reduced engagement, loss of high talent employees etc which threaten industrial future development and its growth. Many feel that inefficient recruitment strategies and the lack of real forward planning are behind the shortage. This lack of talent in areas like analytics, quality, manufacturing, clone development is increasingly making Indian pharma and bio-pharma companies to look at talent outside the country.

It’s a wake-up call for Indian pharma industry policy makers. These challenges would have to be addressed holistically by way of clarity of organisation’s purpose, with a robust leadership pipeline and high quality leadership talents. These would be the most vital sources for successful growth and development of the organisations.

Hiring organisations should now look at the following parameters to retain and attract talent:

Mapping a planned organizational structure: Talent acquisition, defining jobs and roles and the company’s business strategy go hand in hand. Even before setting out to acquire talent, companies should ensure that they have proper systems and processes are in place, while jobs and roles of each department and individuals are well defined and documented. Management should provide a healthy environment to employees to have a bird’s eye view of the company’s business goals, growth drivers, future strategies etc. It is suggested to go as granular as possible for defining the jobs and roles which will ensure that the right person is picked for the right job.

Training and capacity building: Pharma companies should invest in systematic development programmes to keep their current talent pool engaged and effective. Training, therefore, becomes a mandate and should be a continuous process, given the change in regulatory policies, patent laws, technical training and understanding of global best practices. Companies should open up several avenues of development for their employees and engage with them to understand their skills and weaknesses.

Leadership Development: Going beyond traditional capacity building, companies should also be able to discover and invest in high performing individuals who have the potential for handling leadership roles. This will ensure continuity and a leadership pipeline at every level of the organisation. Leadership development should include focused training on understanding company’s business objectives, as well as honing managerial skills to support and develop teams of strong individuals.

Talent retention: Employee retention plays a crucial role to any company’s growth. The demand-supply imbalance has led to higher salary hikes in the pharma sector than most other sectors. This is clearly a challenge in an industry which is very knowledge and relationship driven. Retaining of talent by adopting best-in-class human resources practices, rewarding and re-training employees regularly and defining their career paths. It is also essential to clarify what the company’s competency needs will be in the future and help the employees to acquire those skills.

Most important factor here, is to have an independent progress assessment method at every level, that would enable for subsequent development requirements or needs. Independent coaching platforms by internal mentors or from industry leaders which could deliver more results and also keeps their employees on continuous knowledge acquisition.

Thinking ahead

The key to ensuring committed and engaged employees is to adapt organisational policies to create an enabling environment and meet the evolving needs of today’s workforce. In the long term, there needs to be an overhaul of pertinent education streams besides public-private partnership in large scale capacity building initiatives. In the short term, corporates and industry bodies should collaborate with academia and research institutes to develop training to re-skill pharma and life sciences professionals. Creating a culture that fosters synergy between an employee’s expectations and an organisation’s objectives will set the ball rolling for India’s pharma growth story.

The pharma industry, by and large is recession proof and has been growing at a steady rate in India. As the industry takes strides towards innovation and new drug development from being a bulk drug and generics oriented market, the career opportunity is immense. In a corporate world that is more unpredictable than ever, the pharma companies that are agile and super-responsive, powered by an inspired work ecosystem, will be the successful organisations of the future.

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