Moving Up the Biopharma Career Ladder

Published on: 
BioPharm International, BioPharm International-12-01-2015, Volume 28, Issue 12
Pages: 20–25

Limited career and salary growth complicate a somewhat positive employment picture.

In an industry with evolving scientific development, business ownership transformations, and a fluctuating investment environment, it is no surprise that participants in the 2015 BioPharm International annual employment survey (1) shared conflicting opinions about the employment market. Participants reported greater job security, but also a greater desire to change jobs. They said their work was valued by their employer but are more dissatisfied with their salary. While respondents reported similar opinions about the employment market in the 2014 survey (2), some new findings and opinions were revealed.

More than 440 biopharmaceutical professionals from around the globe responded to the 2015 survey, which was fielded in September and October 2015. Nearly one-third (32.2%) of the respondents were from innovator biopharmaceutical companies; 16.8% were from generic-drug manufacturing companies. Representatives of contract research and manufacturing organizations, government/regulatory organizations, academia, equipment and raw materials suppliers, and consulting firms, also responded. 

Nearly 20 job functions were represented; quality control/assurance and validation (11%) and research/development/formulation (23.8%) were the top selections, followed by process development (8%) and lab management (6.4%). Geographically, 55.6% of the respondents were from the United States; 19.6% were from Europe, 14.1% from Asia, and 5.1% from Central and South America.

Nearly two-thirds of the respondents were over age 40, and 71% were male. The respondents had a range of experience in the biopharma industry; 36.9% have less than 10 years of experience, 31% have 10-20 years, 26.1% have 20-35 years of experience, and 6.1% have worked in the industry for more than 35 years. More than half of the respondents (42.5%) worked in other industries besides bio/pharma for less five years.

Job security and satisfaction
Job security continued an upward trend. In 2013, 33.9% said they felt less secure in their positions than the previous year; in 2014, 31.1% reported feeling less secure; in 2015, the percentage dropped to 28.8%. A slightly smaller percentage of respondents (20.3%) said they feel more secure in their positions compared with last year, down from 22% in 2014, but up from 18.3% in 2013. Overall, 74.6% agreed or strongly agreed that their job was secure. 

Intellectual stimulation, challenging projects, a good work/life balance, and the company’s potential for success were the most frequently cited as “the main reason I come to work.” Low pay was the greatest factor identified for quitting a job. Major sources of job dissatisfaction included issues with management, negative workplace attitudes, limited budgets, and discrimination.

More hours on the job
While reported workloads remain stable or decreased slightly compared with 2014, most respondents are working more hours than they are contractually obligated. In 2015, 63.7% of the respondents reported an increased workload, down slightly from the reported 64.3% in 2014. Nearly 40% of the respondents said they worked more hours in 2015 than two years ago, an increase from 2014, when only one-third of the respondents reported additional hours worked. Business increases without staff increases (72.5%), new technologies (32.4%), staffing cuts (31.2%), and increased regulatory pressure (28.7%) were the leading reasons for increased workloads.

While more than 53.2% of the respondents reported they are contracted to work approximately 40 hours per week, only 24.7% reported working 40 hours. More than one-third (34.4%) are contracted for more than 40 hours per week; more than 69.7% of the respondents said they work 40 or more hours per week. 



Compensation slips 
In 2015, compensation discontent continued to increase with almost 60% reporting dissatisfaction with their salaries; 38.9% of the respondents said they were paid at the low end of the salary range for their job function, considering their expertise and responsibility. Another 20.5% said they were paid below market value. In 2014, 55.3% said they were paid at the low end or below market value.



I am paid excessively for my level of expertise and responsibility.



I am paid fairly for my level of expertise and responsibility.



I am paid within market value for my job function, but at the low end of the range, considering my level of expertise and responsibility.



I am paid below market value, considering my level of expertise and responsibility.





Fewer pay increases may contribute to the dissatisfaction. In 2015, 58% reported a salary increase; a drop from the 62.8% of respondents reporting increases in 2014. Nearly two-thirds reported receiving a cash bonus. Despite the unhappiness with compensation, a strong majority of respondents said their work is fully valued by their employer (35.1% strongly agree; 44.7% agree). 

Career advancement?
Respondents had mixed opinions about the types of training offered by employers. More than three-quarters agreed or strongly agreed that their company provided adequate training for basic job skills. Nearly half, however, felt their companies did not provide advanced training for employee professional growth.  

Opportunities for growth were similarly limited; 41.9% did not feel there is room for career advancement in their present companies; 32% did not feel there are opportunities for professional development. Still, 78% agreed or strongly agreed that they were using their skills and training to the fullest extent.

The survey respondents were not impressed with the expertise and training of industry newcomers. More than three-quarters said the new hires were adequately trained, but not exceptional; 16.1% said the new hires were poorly trained. 

Compared with 2014, more respondents in 2015 (59.2%) agreed somewhat or strongly that they would like to leave their job, given the opportunity, up from 51.1% in the previous year. 

A majority of respondents (65.1%) plan to stay with their positions next year, compared to 63.6% in 2014.

More than 28.6% of the respondents, however, agreed or strongly agreed that they would like to change careers and leave the biopharma industry.

Confidence levels of those seeking new positions within the industry in 2015 were slightly more positive than the 2014 responses; 20.5% said it would be straightforward to find a comparable new job; 51.6% said it may take a while, but they would be able to find a comparable position.



It would be straightforward to find a job comparable to the one I have now.



It would take a while, but I would be able to find a job comparable to the one I have now.



It would be straightforward to find a job, but it probably wouldn't be as good as the one I have now.



I would have to search hard and be prepared to take what I could get.




Of the less optimistic responses, 11.6% said it would be straightforward to find a job, but it probably would not be as good as the current position; and almost 16.3% anticipated a difficult search and they would have take the position that was available.

1. 2015 BioPharm International Employment Survey.
2. 2014 BioPharm International Employment Survey.

Due to rounding, some percentages may not add up to 100%. Some questions allowed multiple answers.

Article DetailsBioPharm International
Vol. 28, No. 12
Page: 20–25

When referring to this article, please cite it as R. Peters, “Moving Up the Biopharma Career Ladder" BioPharm International 28 (12) 2015.