Wanted: A Highly Skilled Biopharma Workforce

Published on: 
BioPharm International, BioPharm International-12-01-2017, Volume 30, Issue 12
Pages: 5

Developing and retaining qualified employees will test biopharma companies and CMOs alike.

Each year, BioPharm International conducts a survey of the biopharma employment environment to assess trends, patterns in salaries and benefits, and employee satisfaction with careers in the industry.

In addition to the compiled statistics from the 2017 survey (1) reported in this issue (2), the survey gathers participant commentary on employment-related topics. As expected, when you ask people for anonymous feedback about their work, the answers range from amusing to angry to thoughtful. Most important, the comments provide honest feedback about a deeply personal topic: the employee’s chosen profession, source of income, and the contributions they make to a cause. Recurring themes in the comments included:

  • In cost-cutting measures, biopharma companies are moving research functions offshore.

  • The competitiveness of the job market depends on geographic location.

  • In competitive areas, it is very difficult to find and retain qualified talent.

  • Technology advances in the biopharma sector will change employment in ways not seen in the traditional pharma sector.

The need for adequate staffing, skilled personnel, and training was another common theme. Respondents cited a need for training in leadership and management skills, regulatory science and affairs, technical management, analytical techniques, and advanced technology skills.

Limited availability of qualified workers can have a negative effect on bio/pharma industry growth. Eric Langer noted that employment concerns are one roadblock to continuing growth for the biopharmaceutical industry (3). More than one-half of bioprocessing facilities experienced capacity problems in 2017 due to difficulties in hiring needed operations staff. Outsourcing manufacturing processes due to staff limitations may not be a solution, he noted, as contract manufacturers also face hiring problems.

Up to the job?

In the 2017 survey, less than 4% of the respondents said new hires were “extremely” well trained for their job functions. Three-quarters of the respondents ranked new hires as “adequately trained, but not exceptional,” and more than 18% said the new hires were poorly trained, “I don’t understand how they got their jobs.”

More than 65% of the respondents expressed some dissatisfaction with the lack of training and continuing education at their organization. More than 22% said the company did not provide adequate training for basic skills; 43% said the company did not provide advanced training for employee professional growth.

Drug companies need highly skilled, knowledgeable scientists, engineers, technicians, and professionals to develop and manufacture new therapies. Bringing a new drug to market is a long-time, high-investment endeavor. Demands for financial performance, however, have short-term horizons.

Both employers and employees need to address the training questions. What are the responsibilities of employees to develop their own workplace skills? Will their personal investment in training and education result in career or salary advances? Are biopharma companies willing to invest in training? Will that training be sufficient to provide for the skilled workforce needed to get the job done?


1. 2017BioPharm International Employment Survey, BioPharm International, 2017.
2. R. Peters, “Survey Measures Biopharma Career Highs and Lows,” BioPharm International, 30 (12) 16-19, 49 (2017).
3. E. Langer and R. Rader, “Top Trends in Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing, 2017,” BioPharm International, 30 (9) 10-13 (2017).

Article Details

BioPharm International
Volume 30, Number 12
December 2017
Page: 5


When referring to this article, please cite it as R. Peters, “Wanted: A Highly Skilled Biopharma Workforce," BioPharm International 30 (12) 2017.