Calm in the Storm: Our 2005 Job and Salary Survey
The pharma job market’s going to get worse before it gets better. Hold on to your hat, and take stock of what you’ve got.
To meet the trend, academic degree programs at all levels are customizing themselves more specifically towards the pharmaceutical industry. New Jersey Institute of Technology’s (Newark, N.J.) M.S. program in Pharmaceutical Engineering is one of the first of its kind. Program director Dr. Piero Armenante says the field is so new within academia that NJIT has had to create its textbooks in-house, on topics ranging from unit operations to pharmacokinetics. Traditional chemical engineering texts focus on gases and liquids, while the NJIT program’s focus is on solid processing, he notes.
Armenante says he’s not concerned about the outlook for job prospects for his pharmaceutical engineers. His program is just over two years old, sending the first of its graduates into the industry; Armenante’s unofficial placement figures are around 100%. “The pharmaceutical industry is one of the few left, in manufacturing, where there is potential for expansion,” he says. “There will always be a need for this kind of degree.”
Armenante says the industry underutilizes its engineers. One of our survey respondents echoed that sentiment: “The industry is focused around chemists and biologists, and they aren’t using the manufacturing, large-scale production, optimization and cost-saving skills of engineers.”
Anyone with a little “bio” in their degree may have the last laugh, says Massachusetts Technology’s Kneece. Like CareerTrax’s Jensen, he sees biotechs quietly stuffing their potential hire files with CVs of candidates with biology backgrounds. “There has been a very slight shift from chemistry to biology the past few years,” Kneece says. “Biotech firms are trying to get the pipeline filled.”
Many of you promoted the benefits of a business education. While just over 10 percent of survey respondents were business majors, several suggested that business degrees look good on resumes, and help workers navigate the business and political aspects of every job. Said one respondent: “A business degree helps in career branching.”
Whatever paper hangs on your wall, you’ll appreciate these pearls of wisdom from two respondents:
Arm yourself for uncertainty
- “Get as much education as you can. Then get into management.”
- “Don’t let them put you down if you don’t have a college education. The people with an education get more pay but can’t always do the job.”
While you may be completely content in your work, you should be always be gauging the job market as well as your own skills, says Massachusetts Technology’s Kneece. One way to do that is to interview with other firms. “If anything, you may find that you really like your current job,” he says.
Here’s some other advice to keep you prepared for a rainy day:
If It Makes You Happy
- Stay skilled and current. In a market where firms are looking for employees who can step in and have an immediate impact on a team or project, you have to hone your skills to match the marketplace. “Your only security is your ability to interview for the next position,” says Pharmaceutical Careers, Inc.’s Tom Bramswig. “Younger people especially are realizing that. You have to be ready to move.”
Most savvy job-seekers have three or four targeted resumes, AstraZeneca U.S recruiting director Jeff Harvey. This way they can portray themselves as being the perfect fit for a variety of positions.
- Keep yourself out there. This is easier said than done, especially in an industry where the extroverts gravitate towards sales and introverts towards manufacturing. “Manufacturing professionals tend to be introverted, nose-to-the-grindstone people,” says Bramswig, “and that has to be overcome.” Networking is critical, he says. Stay in touch with your best contacts. Drop them emails on a regular basis.
There’s a philosophical shift in how firms are tracking down candidates, says AstraZeneca’s Harvey. College visits and recruiting fairs are in the past, he says. Instead, HR professionals are networking with abandon, going beyond traditional employee referral programs and getting in touch with anyone who might have a friend of a friend with the right stuff. This includes mining professional organizations. “The war for passive talent is at a very high level,” Harvey says. “There’s so much competition that we have to go out and find folks.” With limited budgets, HR staffs like AstraZeneca’s are doing themselves what they used to pay search firms to do.
- Consider consulting. Lean, agile firms are looking to consultants more than ever to meet specialized needs. “This is the biggest change I’ve seen in the market in the last few years,” says Bramswig. Rather than hiring full-timers, firms are taking full advantage of, and creating a burgeoning market for, consultants.
“Our internal headcount is managed more closely than ever before,” says Harvey. He says his HR staff is turning to consultants more and more, and contractors less and less. “When the work still has to get done, you need to supplement your staff somehow,” he says.
Having no other choice, more and more mid- to late-career professionals are signing short-term contracts with their old companies or hanging out their shingles, seeking opportunity and a semblance of security. Being a hired gun is the best way to find work right now, Bramswig says, and often leads to something more permanent.
What is it about your jobs that makes you happiest? You jumped at the chance. A great number cited the challenge of pharmaceutical manufacturing work. It’s an extremely technical, demanding field, you said, and you wouldn’t have it any other way. Many of you spoke of the variety in your work and the constant learning taking place. If there is a measure of autonomy thrown in, even better, you said.
You spoke of the opportunity to make a difference. For some, that means making a product that is important. “It makes me happy to develop drugs that improve the quality of life of seriously ill people,” one of you said. For others, that means making a difference within your firm. “I enjoy improving the process through technical solutions,” one of you said. “I like increasing the throughput.”
In rare cases, pretty much everything is good. “I enjoy the people I work with and the work I do,” one person said.
What makes some of you unhappiest? In a word, management. They’re incompetent, disorganized, slow. They communicate poorly. They don’t listen to input from manufacturing professionals. They’re politicians, not leaders. To be fair, though, many of you expressed fondness for your management in various parts of our survey. (Which companies? Sorry, that’s classified!)
Bureaucracy was another concern, whether internal or from FDA. You also spoke of long hours and excessive workloads, bad commutes and bad bosses, lack of planning and lack of vacation. For some there was a clear frustration that you were not able to do enough. “I’m not making enough of a difference,” one respondent said.
Sometimes your frustrations were external. “Public sentiment has changed about working in the industry,” one respondent said, implying his pride had taken a hit.
To access numerous helpful graphics that illustrate our survey findings, click the "Download Now" button below.
|Words from the Wise|
What advice you would give someone contemplating entering your profession? Below are some of your most compelling responses.
The most common answer was, “Be flexible,” or some variation thereof. It’s easy to get pigeon-holed in the pharmaceutical industry, you suggested, unless you show a willingness to learn new concepts and technologies and think outside the box. As one of you put it, “Be versitile. Garner knowledge of many topics. And learn to spell.” Um, that’s “versatile.”
Know someone getting into pharmaceutical manufacturing? Cut this out and pass it along.
Words of Inspiration:
Thoughts on Perspiration:
- Do it because you love it, not because you want the money.
- Keep an open mind and listen to what people are actually saying to you.
- Work hard and take chances.
- You are a business of one!
- Go for it. It’s fun, challenging and you get satisfaction knowing you are making a difference.
- Be fundamentally and technically sound. Stay current with the new technologies and have a willingness to learn new things.
- Be prepared for paperwork.
- Preparing to survive in a “zero-defect,” highly audited position is extremely demanding. The ability to focus has been my greatest attribute.
- Be ready to work at lot of hours. Manufacturing is 24/7.
- Work for a large company, but be prepared to compete and constantly perform at the highest level.