Jobs Are Better in Biopharma, But There Is Room for Improvement

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BioPharm International, BioPharm International-12-01-2013, Volume 26, Issue 12

Higher wages and employment rates give biopharm professionals an edge over counterparts in other industries.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the seasonally adjusted US unemployment rate in October 2013 as 7.3%, down from a high of 10% in October 2009. While the employment picture has improved, professionals in the biopharmaceutical industry are expressing uncertainty about the job market. Still, the bioscience industry is a good place to be, compared to other markets.

The 2012 Battelle/BIO State Bioscience Industry Development study (1) reports that overall bioscience employment (which includes drugs and pharmaceuticals; research, testing and medical laboratories; bioscience-related distribution; agricultural feedstock and chemicals; and medical devices and equipment) rose 6.4% between 2001 and 2010. Other knowledge-based industries, including finance and insurance, aerospace, IT services and telecomm, and computer and peripheral equipment declined. The total US private sector employment declined 2.9%.


From 2007 to 2010, which covers the year prior to the start of the recession through the first year of the economic recovery, employment in the bioscience industry fell 1.4 %. In comparison, total private sector employment fell 6.9% and other knowledge-based industries fell by at least 2.4%.

A range of factors, including the recession, competition from generics, mergers and acquisitions, and the slow drug approval process contributed to the drop in employment numbers in the drugs and pharmaceuticals subsector. After initial gains of 4.2% or 13,000 jobs from 2001 to 2007, employment in that subsector dropped 7% from 2007 to 2010, or 22,000 jobs, about the same rate as the total US private sector.

Pharmaceutical preparation, the largest component of the drug and pharmaceutical subsector, accounted for the majority of job losses in recent years; two smaller segments increased employment: in-vitro diagnostic substances (8%) and biological product manufacturing (5%). Still, that subsector paid the highest annual wages in the biosciences market. The average industry worker earned more than $99,000 in 2010, 20% more than the average worker in the biosciences and twice the national average for the private sector. Changes in real average wages, 15.3% for 2001-2010, also outpaced the overall biosciences market (13.1%) and the total US private sector (4.4%), according to the Battelle/BIO report.

High wages for the drug and pharmaceutical subsector can be attributed to the demand for a highly educated and skilled workforce. According to the 2013 BioPharm International employment survey, nearly 28% of the respondents held a doctorate degree; more than 36% held a Master’s degree.

The respondents were experienced. More than 76% have more than 10 years of experience (including postdoctoral work); more than 45% have worked more than 20 years. However, for an industry that requires skilled workers, current biopharmaceutical industry professionals do not think highly of new hires. Almost three-quarters of the respondents said new hires were adequately trained, but “not exceptional.” More than 17% said the new hires were poorly trained.
On a positive note, more than 82% of the respondents say their work is fully valued by their employer; more than 75% feel their job is secure; and nearly 80% say they have not experienced discrimination at their current company.

Results of the 2013 BioPharm International employment survey can be found on pages 21-26. For additional coverage and results, see

1. 2012 Battelle/BIO State Bioscience Industry Development,, accessed Nov. 18, 2013.


Rita Peters is editorial director of

BioPharm International