Sanjeev Goel, Business Head, Manipal ProLearn highlights that the pharma sector needs an agile workforce to leverage opportunities and overcome challenges in a post-COVID world and emphasises that pharma organisations should assess and calibrate employees in terms of their skill levels to address development areas through reskilling or upskilling
COVID-19 has inarguably been one of the three worst diseases to have hit mankind in the last 100 years. Governments across the world have imposed lockdowns to contain the spread of the viral disease by shutting down almost all non-essential services. Medicines, healthcare and medical equipment being essential services, have continued operations throughout this period, but have been bogged down in just ensuring supply chain movements, and dealing with the challenges of the impact of the lockdown, i.e. non-availability of raw materials, under-utilisation of manufacturing units, absence of available labour, connectivity issues for most of the white-collar staff in ‘work from home’, absence of in-person sales, and cyber-risk management.
During the lockdown, the pharma industry witnessed a significant acceleration in consumer behaviour – shift to e-consultations through live video calls/phone-calls between doctors and patients, e-purchases of medicines by uploading doctor’s e-prescriptions, and home-collection of blood samples. At the same time, pharma companies intensified and accelerated their pace of digital transformation to improve quality and productivity by deploying new-age technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Cloud computing, robotic process automation (RPA), and others to speed up drug repurposing medicines and development of biomarkers.
Need for an agile workforce
Despite the economic slowdown, the pharma industry is expected to register positive growth across most of the critical financial parameters including top-line revenues, profits and market-capitalisation through soaring stock prices. With the global markets reducing their dependence on China for drugs due to its poor handling of the COVID-19 spread, it is expected that India will fill that gap through ramping up production and exports of generics and APIs in the coming months.
This represents both an opportunity and a challenge for India’s pharma industry to redefine their processes and approaches. The redefinition needs to start from assessing and calibrating individual employees in terms of their skill levels. Once assessed, the development areas need to be addressed through being reskilled or upskilled to cope with the new technologies and advances in their respective functional domain. Similarly, prospective employees need to be given hands-on training to bring them up to speed with current and future skills identified as being critical.
The talent-transition hub or HR Innovation Hub within pharma organisations is tasked to manage the workforce transformation by facilitating the learning journey of identified employees on future-ready skills. To that end, Manipal ProLearn launched the School of Pharma, with UL as its content and certification partner. Before launching specialised and focused programmes, we must filter talent through extensive evaluation using assessment tools from providers like MeritTrac, and follow through by training them appropriately while customising some of the modules as per client requirements. In fact, we recommend and organise training with a high ‘experiential’ component of 70 per cent that can be achieved through specific practical training and on-the-job training.
Here are some of the important aspects of upskilling the pharma workforce in the current context:
- Upskilling is top-down: The transformation journey through upskilling in any industry starts from the leadership level and senior management. Training the leadership first ensures that they become the coaches and mentors of their respective teams when the organisation-wide strategic initiatives of upskilling are launched, and helps build a culture of upskilling in the organisation.
- Upskilling in drug discovery: To reduce the ‘time to market’ for new drugs, pharma companies in India are leveraging workforce capabilities in medical skills and IT capability – a critical combination in today’s research teams in global clinical R&D for clinical trials, data management, testing, etc.
- Upskilling in drug manufacturing: With close to 30,000 drug manufacturing units in India, some of them as basic as tin-sheds manufacturing a single chemical/ingredient, competing with the larger fully automated formulations plants being run by top pharma companies, the need for upskilling is being felt even more in the post-COVID scenario.
- Upskilling in policy and regulatory environment: With more than