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Cautiously setting aside pandemic practices, pharma workers appear ready for flux, change, evolution, and expanding molecular diversity.
Every year, the editors of Pharmaceutical Technology conduct a survey (1) designed to measure the state of the bio/pharma industry. More specifically, the survey assesses various employment metrics, thoughts on ongoing trends, and predictions for the future of the industry. The intent is to not only create a snapshot of the bio/pharma industry as it exists in 2022, but to also encapsulate the thoughts and feelings of those within.
In recent years, this has been dominated by the specter of a generational pandemic. While most are reluctant to declare the end to COVID-19—the continual discovery of new variants would stay the hand of even the boldest of public health officials—its influence has nonetheless diminished, even in an industry that has become inextricably tied to the virus.
However, in this year’s survey, consisting of 296 respondents in the bio/pharmaceutical industry, almost all key metrics that concern COVID-19’s importance to daily operations (Figure 1) decreased. One of the largest practices, social distancing, dropped to 28.2%, less than half of the percentage in last year’s survey (2). And while remote work remained prominent, with approximately 58% still engaging in the practice—especially notable given that many pharmaceutical positions require working on-site—it still had an approximate 10% drop from last year’s sample. Of the eight measures, the only pandemic-related metric that saw a rise in use was “assuming additional responsibilities,” which saw a modest increase of approximately three percentage points.
While the reticence to banish COVID-19 will continue to permeate through society, it is clear that the pharmaceutical industry is de-escalating many of the practices associated with it. Setting aside the validity of this approach, this shifts industry discussion to other aspects of the pharmaceutical market and what the future may hold.
Among survey respondents, wage growth appeared to stagnate relative to last year’s survey. As seen in Figure 2, 72.8% of respondents indicated that their salary remained “approximately” the same, almost twice as much as last year’s 39.0%. Similarly, just 22.1% of respondents indicated a significant increase in salary, less than half of last year’s 55.4% number. Salary decreases also had a modest reduction, as they did in 2021, dropping from 8.1% to 5.1%.
Approximately 24.3% of respondents felt some increase in job security, a slight dip from the 30.4% number observed in 2021; the percentage of those who felt no change in job security dropped just three tenths of a percentage from 52.6% to 52.3%. As seen in Figure 3, these modest reductions appear to have funneled into a slight increase in those who felt less secure, from 17.0% to 21.3%. As it pertains to job satisfaction, while those who felt somewhat satisfied or unsatisfied with their jobs remained similar to 2021’s numbers, those who felt fully satisfied dropped from 23.7% to 14.5% and those who felt mostly satisfied increased from 39.2% to 51.4%, resulting in a slight drop to the weighted average.
Interestingly, this only appears to have corresponded with a slight decrease in overall salary satisfaction. While those who were fully satisfied with their salary did drop from 18.8% to 14.9%, there was an increase from 37.7% to 41.9% in those who were mostly satisfied; this means the total number of those who responded positively to the question (i.e., fully or mostly satisfied) actually increased slightly. It is worth noting that the survey slightly changed the wording of the pay assessment question to include the word “significantly” to prevent raises designed to keep pace with inflation from being considered a metric of real wage growth. This change could result in some degree of variance among responses in the survey population, especially given the otherwise bullish market for employees in the greater economic landscape.
However, in tandem with work wages, job security, and overall job satisfaction metrics dropping, concerns of the survey population (Figure 4) revolved around finding proper staff. More specifically, over half of the respondents indicated that either an insufficient number of staff with specialized training (35.0%) or number of staff in general (22.8%) were their biggest concerns. Taken together, this could suggest that the pharmaceutical industry is struggling between attracting skilled talent and raising compensation for existing workers, an especially difficult task with inflation in countries like the United States outpacing many company’s
standard annual raises.
Alternatively, given decreases in job security metrics and the fact that just 26.4% of the respondents have changed jobs in the past two years, this could perhaps indicate a reluctance to re-enter the job hunting market. While it is generally understood that pay bumps from job to job will be, on average, higher than those within the same company, the uncertain state of the market could be staying the hands of those who would otherwise pursue new opportunities. In conjunction with high inflation and the perceived need for spending on additional staff, this could result in fewer raises and lower wages.
While wages and employment remain in a murky place, the other questions on the survey—those concerning past trends, future trends, and how they might intersect—painted a clearer picture of where the future of the industry might be headed.
In last year’s survey, the pharma industry had begun its recovery from the lows of COVID-19 and responses corresponded with that. Approximately 53.2% of respondents felt the industry had performed better than anticipated, while 47.4% thought the same about their company’s performance. As one would expect, those numbers both dropped significantly this year, as seen on Figure 5 and Figure 6, to 25.1% and 28.5%, respectively.
However, there were only modest increases in those who felt it did worse than expected, an especially notable statistic in light of the fact that over half of the 2021 respondents expected increases in the industry. This affirmation of last year’s inclinations toward continued growth in the industry could perhaps explain the continued optimism in this year’s sample. As shown in Figure 7, nearly half of respondents believe their individual company’s and the industry itself will continue to improve in the following year, while only a small fraction of the sample (10.9% and 11.5%, respectively) believe that things will get worse.
This, however, begs the question of where this growth may occur. The editors selected several intriguing areas of opportunities for participants to choose between, and as shown in Figure 8, just under half (47.3%) chose cell and gene therapies. While chimeric antigen receptor-t cell therapies have been drawing increased interest from companies since tisagenlecleucel’s approval in 2017, this interest can also be explained by the rise of mRNA vaccines. Following their accelerated development in wake of the COVID-19 pandemics, there have been many vocal proponents for their use in personalized vaccines, in particular for conditions like cancer. In addition to cell and gene therapies, machine learning and artificial intelligence (22.3%) also drew significant interest from the survey population.
In total, while this year’s employment survey did shine a light on some intriguing trends throughout the industry, it has also reiterated, as it almost always does, that the industry continues to be in a state of flux. While there is continued optimism and hope for promising technologies, struggles among employees and business could easily boil to the surface. Employees may continue to face wage stagnation, while businesses may face struggles to maintain proper staffing for current operations, let alone branch out into new technologies of interest.
To get a coda on this from the survey respondents, we asked every respondent to submit one word that they felt best described the industry as it currently stands. While there were a variety of responses, two words kept popping up: “Challenging” and “Evolving.”
Will this prove true? Only time will tell—see you next year.
1. Pharmaceutical Technology. Employment and Trends in the Pharma Industry Survey (December 2022).
2. G. Playter, “The Long Path to Normal,” Pharmaceutical Technology 46 (1) 19–21 (2022).
Grant Playter is assistant editor for BioPharm International.
Vol. 36, No. 1
When referring to this article, please cite it as G. Playter. Crossing the Same River Multiple Times. BioPharm International 2023 36 (1).