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Pharma workforce post COVID-19

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Experts share some of the most immediate and important changes that will be reflected in the pharma workforce and its management as the world grapples with a new normal, post COVID-19

There will be several resets in a post-COVID-19 world. The way we work will definitely be one of them. Even after the lockdown ends, sweeping transformations will be seen in the way workplaces and workforces operate.

So, how will these transformations play out in the pharma sector? What will be the impact on hiring trends, employee retention programmes, or skilling initiatives?

A surge in demand for pharma workforce

Sanjeev Goel, Business Head, Manipal ProLearn states, “The pullback in economic activity due to Covid19 will slow the pace of hiring in the immediate future, but looking further out, the crisis is likely to reshape the recruiting landscape as employers and governments respond to problems and redefine how and where work gets done.”

“But, as far as the pharma sector is concerned, a definite long-term change will be an increase in demand for factory workers globally, as companies lessen their dependence on China. India will have the unique advantage of already having a substantial pharma manufacturing of generics and if it increases capacity through immediate investment, it stands to gain as possibly the biggest manufacturer and exporter of pharma generics and APIs in the world,” he adds.

“If one were to look at history, the influenza pandemic of 1918 was followed by the Roaring Twenties, a decade of economic growth and widespread prosperity, driven by recovery from wartime devastation and deferred spending. All that activity created a lot of jobs and a need for skilled workers,” he further surmises.

Radical transitions in workplace cultures and patterns

Kamal Dutta, MD Skillsoft India points out, “With the nationwide lockdown, pharma units in India experienced low attendance and engagement of their workforce resulting in decreased productivity. On the other hand, employees are worried about their health, safety and jobs. Over the course of several weeks, the ongoing crisis has forced many companies to change their ways of the past.”

He outlines, “With the social distancing norms and work from home instructions, employees need to learn how to work out of traditional office settings.”

Sumit Kumar, Vice President, NETAP, TeamLease Services states, “Post COVID19, will witness a transition in working pattern and workplace culture. While most of us will be better equipped to work remotely, some will have to cope with restricted workforce and workplace restrictions. At across roles and nature of work, workmen will have to go through behavioural change and be receptive to changes keeping in mind health safety measures.”

Skilling and reskilling will be vital

Mehta underscores that the need for a highly-skilled workforce to rebuild businesses, take advantage of growth opportunities, streamline supply chains and build efficiencies is significant. Therefore abilities like proficiencies in tackling supply chains, team building and leadership skills to deal with any crisis, will also gain a lot of attention.

Articulating on how increasing the number of employees in manufacturing will mean that a large section of the ‘employable’ workforce needs to be specifically skilled in pharma manufacturing processes and SOPs, Goel states, “It will also mean that existing pharma sector employees will need to show a broad range of skills and be flexible in the role/ function that they are deployed, leading to more ‘multi-skilled’ workers, rather than narrow ‘single-skill’ workers.”

“Both these will result in an increase in demand for short-duration intensive skilling and training of the pharma workforce in manufacturing. Hopefully, when this crisis ends, as it will, skilling graduates on pharma manufacturing will be the biggest need of the hour. In fact, to cater to this need, the Manipal Group has launched its Manipal Prolearn Pharma School of Excellence in Quality, designed to train and upskill the pharma manufacturing sector workforce,” he further updates.

Kumar too points out, “With the restriction in headcount at the workplace, emphasis will be to maintain the productivity. This will see massive and rapid adoption of automation. Hence, people should focus on up-skilling and re-skilling in automation to maintain productivity factor at the manufacturing plants.”

However, he also draws attention to the fact that there will be renewed demand for skilled professionals in other areas as well. He says, “Companies will invest in high-level skilling to create more IP to have a competitive advantage. Pharma and healthcare are expected to see unprecedented growth, so R&D will be a key differentiator.”

“We can expect traditional learning models being influenced by blended digital learning mechanisms to maintain continuity in learning while keeping social distancing in mind,” he updates.

Lessons to learn

For employees: “The workforce has now become more distributed, thereby increasing the demand for them to be adept at not only functional skills but also skills such as creativity, innovation, complex problem-solving, cognitive abilities and social skills. Therefore they should focus on building digital skills, learning new productivity and collaboration skills which will be critical for continued success,” advises Mehta.

For employers: “Companies will have to restore the confidence and morale of employees by ensuring minimum wages, welfare and health safety. After the ordeal they have gone through, employers will have to give psychological comfort”, emphasises Kumar.

Thus, it is clear that success and progress in a post-COVID-19 world will be reliant on agile talent management strategies, adaptable workforces and inspired work ecosystems.

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