Packaging / Aseptic Processing

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.

There's no doubt times are tough
for pharmaceutical manufacturing
pros, but there are many positives,
too. You are well-educated,
dedicated, and among the most
highly paid professionals around.
Photo courtesy of Merck.



By Paul Thomas, Managing Editor

The pharmaceutical industry may have weathered the recent U.S. recession better than most industries, but, just as other industries are bouncing back, job experts agree that pharma is due for an even bigger tempest: a wave of downsizing spurred by narrow profit margins and soaring costs, mergers and consolidations, and general industry woes exacerbated by Pfizer’s troubles with Celebrex and Bextra and Merck’s with Vioxx. Sales and marketing may take the greatest hit, but manufacturing is due for its fair share of job cuts.

To access numerous helpful graphics that illustrate our survey findings, click the "Download Now" button at the end of this article.
Pharmaceutical Manufacturing’s 2005 Job and Salary Survey confirms that these are trying times. Half of you are concerned about job security. More than half of you said your company has been affected by hiring freezes recently. More than a quarter said outsourcing is increasing at your firm.

When gold standard firms like Pfizer and Merck start to swoon, you know things are bad, says Jeff Harvey, U.S. recruiting director at AstraZeneca (Wilmington, Del.). “I wish I could reassure people,” he adds, speaking from an industrywide perspective, “but I can’t.”

Be prepared, Harvey says. “The people who will land on their feet are those who are adaptable, positive, and capable of continuing to learn,” he says.

Take heart. We have positive news to report. First of all, despite layoffs, salaries are holding firm. You are some of the highest paid professionals around. What’s more, you’re well-educated, dedicated to your job, and aren’t afraid of a little hard work. You’ve chosen a noble profession and the pharmaceutical industry is all the richer for it.

Moreover, you really seem to like what you do (see graphic). Here’s a flavor of some of your comments in our survey:
  • “I enjoy making a world-class, important product.”

  • “I have the opportunity to work with new technology that is changing the future of pharmaceutical manufacturing."

  • “The people I supervise are like my family away from my biological family.”

  • “You get satisfaction knowing that you are making a difference.”
So, while clouds may be rumbling on the horizon, think of our first-ever job and salary survey as an opportunity to appreciate what you have, and to take stock of assets that will serve you throughout your careers.

Before we move on, a hearty “thank you” to the hundreds of you who responded. Thanks, also, for your copious comments to our open-ended questions. We wish we could have included them all, because it’s the stuff that let’s us know how meaningful your life and work are to you.

Job security: It’s not the economy, stupid

To be exact, 44.4 % of you say that job security is a big weight on your shoulders. Tom Bramswig, president of recruiting firm Pharmaceutical Careers, Inc. (Pleasantville, N.Y.), is surprised that number’s not higher. “These days, anyone can be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he says.

THE TOTAL YOU

If all of you who responded to the survey were grouped together into one uber-human pharmaceutical professional, what would be your dominant traits? Let’s try this:

First of all, you’re a man, although not without your feminine side (20 percent of our respondents were women). You’re about 45 years old, with an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering. You’re in manufacturing and operations (or maybe QA/QC) and have worked in the industry for 15 years, though only five with your current employer. Your annual salary is around 90K, just a cost-of-living-increase higher than last year. You’ve got medical, dental, and a 401K, but not profit sharing, paid parental leave and daycare, or a company car.
Our survey illustrates the tough times. Significant percentages of you are seeing layoffs, hiring and salary freezes, fewer promotions and more outsourcing.

What’s becoming clear is that the economy is not to blame. Credit instead low profits and the general industry malaise. “It has more to do with the number of mergers going on,” such as that between Sanofi and Aventis, says Richard Kneece, CEO of Massachusetts Technology Corp. (Allston, Mass.), which runs a number of popular Internet job sites, including hireRx and hireBio. “That always slows things down for a period of time.”

Consider the experience of one survey respondent: “During a five year period, I was employed by four different firms without changing offices. It was a nightmare worrying about job security and adapting to each ‘new way’ of doing business. . . My biggest fear is that eventual mega-mergers and consolidations will result in a handful of pharma companies left standing, limiting opportunities for employment and advancement.”

Amid all the restructurings and layoffs, loyalty has suffered. Young people take this in stride as part of today’s working world, and late-career job seekers should follow their lead, Bramswig adds. That concept may be hard to swallow for the roughly 50% of you who have been with your company for more than five years.

The flipside of the coin is that those who do have jobs are cherishing what they’ve got. As one of you stated so profoundly: “It’s better to work than not work.”

The work-life balancing act

Another sign of the times is that you seem to be putting in longer hours without raising a fuss. “In a turnaround, employees know they’re going to work more,” says Michael McCarthy, director of global staffing at Schering-Plough (Kenilworth, N.J.). “People come in knowing that they have a certain amount of work to get done.”

Our numbers back this up. Forty-hour work weeks are a luxury few of you have. And only half of you took all of your vacation time last year.

At the same time, McCarthy sees more and more job seekers inquiring about work-life balance. They want to know that a company like Schering-Plough offers not just a 401K but also a health club subsidy, tuition reimbursement, and nearby child care. As companies focus on worker productivity, most firms are willing to offer a comprehensive benefits package, McCarthy adds.

We asked you to tell us about what your employers are doing to help you maintain a healthy work-life balance. While some of you were less than pleased — “If you are salaried, you are a slave laborer,” one of you lamented; “pretty much a cold heartless wasteland,” said another — most of you were satisfied with your firms’ options. In addition to the biggies — medical, dental, life, 401K — you spoke of flex time, telecommuting and free Internet at home, health club and fitness subsidies, and online programs such as LifeWorks.

A healthy earnings outlook

Given the industrywide employment shakeup, salaries in pharmaceutical manufacturing remain very competitive, says Schering-Plough’s McCarthy. Our numbers bear this out (to see this and other graphics, click the "Download Now" button at the end of this article).

AstraZeneca’s Harvey concurs, though he notes that manufacturing jobs aren’t really commanding higher salaries and bonuses these days. Scientists and M.D.s coveted for R&D functions are seeing sizable jumps in pay, he says.

Pharmaceutical companies these days are “uncomfortable” about finding “quality” people — as in QA and QC — and may be willing to pay a premium to hire or keep staff in this area, says Dave Jensen, managing director of Sedona, Ariz.-based search firm CareerTrax, Inc. One reason they are in demand is that QA/QC professionals can make the transition from the traditional pharmaceutical arena to biotech fairly easily. Quality issues tend to be the same on both sides of the fence, Jensen says. That bodes well for the nearly 20% of our survey participants who work in quality (see graphic).

Out West, Jensen is seeing consistent salary increases for chemical and biochemical engineers, who also look good on both sides of the fence. He says annual raises of 5% are common, with companies getting more and more comfortable with raises above mere cost-of-living adjustments.

Should massive industrywide layoffs materialize, biotech may be poised to pick up some of the slack, Jensen says. “There are companies in California waiting for the opportunity to get some of these people.”

Jensen says salary and job prospects are also good for biochemists and formulations specialists, and anyone with experience in downstream bioprocessing and purification. Some of the latter are even commanding up to 20% annual increases, he says. “What has me concerned is the large number of people that will be laid off who are tied into the classical pharmaceutical skills” like tableting and filling, he says.

Sharpen your skills

There is increased traffic in resumes with two skill qualifications: automation and compliance, says Massachusetts Technology’s Kneece. A working knowledge of specific automation systems, he says, is a requirement for many positions, and definitely a “nice-to-have” for others.

Given the increased influence of regulatory issues on corporate bottom lines, having any kind of regulatory- or compliance-related experience, or just having experience in a highly regulated environment, adds to your marketability, he says.

“The emphasis on compliance is huge,” adds Schering-Plough’s McCarthy. “People who have worked in an FDA-regulated environment clearly have an advantageous skill set.” Familiarity with Sarbanes-Oxley is also helpful, he says. That knowledge doesn’t always translate into higher wages, he says, but there is a higher demand for employees with compliance and validation experience.

AstraZeneca recently tapped into FDA to fill a few key leadership positions, says Harvey. In fact, in addition to experience in regulatory, validation and compliance matters, he puts a premium on any job candidate with demonstrated leadership ability. “From a technical standpoint, we don’t have difficulty finding entry- and mid-level people,” he says. However, finding a combination of technical and leadership skills is much harder. Harvey recommends that professionals take every opportunity to enhance their leadership profile by leading projects, mentoring others, and taking on cross-functional responsibilities.

“Anyone showing leadership skills in a GMP environment should be set,” says CareerTrax’s Jensen. “Those with only technical skills will have difficulty.”

To access numerous helpful graphics that illustrate our survey findings, click the "Download Now" button at the end of this article.
A matter of degree

Having the right degree, rather than the highest degree, is another plus. “Companies are looking for the perfect fit,” says Bramswig of Pharmaceutical Careers. They’re not as willing as they have been in the past to hire green workers and nurture them, or to wait for experienced hires to retrofit their skills and training. They want the person on the resume. Getting a higher degree won’t help, Bramswig says, unless it helps you fill a niche.

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:
  • “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.”
Arm yourself for uncertainty

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:
  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.
If It Makes You Happy

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.

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:
  • 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.
Thoughts on Perspiration:
  • 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.


To access numerous helpful graphics that illustrate our survey findings, click the "Download Now" button below.

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