Talent Planning & Tech: a Better Future for Pharma_

March 15, 2022

The implementation of new technologies in pharma has the ability to accelerate innovation and boost the bottom line. Yet the so-called 4th Industrial Revolution comes at the cost of a widening skills gap, with the potential to threaten sustainable growth in the sector. Neil Kelly of Vector Partners outlines how, despite the hurdles on the road to utilising new technology, a new, more positive, era lies ahead, with the help of talent planning, recruiting, and training and development.

The advent of robotics and automation tells a story, not of job loss, but of job transformation. Investment in R&D is driving growth, the technology is there to support it, and from an innovation perspective, it all signals huge potential for the sector. But to achieve sustainable growth, workforces need to keep pace with technology: having the right people in place, a supportive culture, and the planning and programmes to help them develop. With a high global vacancy rate in pharma, the main challenge is engaging, and keeping, the right talent to sustain and grow business.

Mind the skills gap In the last decade we've witnessed a complete 180 in terms of skill sets required in pharma, with the onset of automation and robotics, quantum computing and mechatronics. Mechanical engineers are on their way out and data engineers are on their way in. Technological innovation is also driving change in the CDMO space. CDMOs generally thrive on their more agile offering, being able to get to market faster, and further, and for less. Amidst the changing landscape of industry technologies, they've been forced to do things differently, in terms of the talent and skill sets they seek.

And the generation gap One of the challenges feeding into the skills gap is the lack of talent planning in the workforce. Why is this important? Because the different generations in the workforce, from Baby Boomers to Gen X to Millennials and Gen Z, often have different skill sets. Whether that is lack of IT literacy or engineering skills, the challenge of hiring the right skills to create a balanced workforce still remains, whatever generation you belong to. Organisations are now beginning to recognise the benefits of intergenerational talent development, where the workforce learns from each other. As much as older generations can learn from tech-savvy Gen Z and Millennials, so new joiners can learn from the decades of experience of Baby Boomers and Gen X, thus completing the circle and the cross-organisation skill set. Recruiting the right talent into the right roles, with the right culture and development structure in place, allows you to have a balanced workforce to learn and develop effectively, and harmoniously. Besides the obvious benefits of upskilling and improving efficiency, and supporting each other, well-structured training can also improve mental health and wellbeing in pharma. The security of a structured career path cannot be underestimated, and a happy, healthy workforce is less likely to move on, avoiding added pressure on the skills gap.

Reskilling employees to address talent gaps can help a company retain the bulk of its operations workers and empower them to take advantage of a new world.
McKinsey & Company April 9, 20201

Narrowing the skills gap for the future will also rely on connecting with talent at the earliest possible opportunity. Establishing relationships with academic institutes, universities and schools, nurturing relationships early, and at a local level, will pay dividends for the future.

Total workforce management & talent planning Addressing the skills gap successfully will also rely on having a robust and holistic view of how talent is managed, and a more agile approach to recruitment and resources. Total Workforce Management is a combination of systems and strategies that assess the resource requirements of a role and review the potential, contingent and permanent workforce and technology available to fill it. Moving away from hiring and firing, and traditional silos, HR, procurement and management work together. A vital component of total workforce management is the development of a holistic talent plan, drawn up with talent specialists with sector-specific knowledge of the industry's pressure points and innovation curves. Strategic talent planning can find the talent that will deliver a swift ROI, rather than just fill a gap. The complete talent plan prioritises sustainable growth through developing people, setting them on a path of ongoing training and development, so that they can grow with the business and take it to the next level. Technology advancement and the pandemic have no doubt created a backdrop of uncertainty, and pharma is by no means immune. Technology, research and innovation will always be the key drivers for growth, but it will only be sustainable if the right talent is in place, with the right skills and at the right time, to unlock its potential. Those organisations that can support both their new recruits and their long-term employees with holistic, forward-looking training, and that put in place strategic talent planning, can leverage the benefits of this technological revolution and emerge from the pandemic era well positioned for rapid growth.

1 Pharma operations: Creating the workforce of the future | McKinsey

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Neil Kelly

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