It’s a time of contradictions for pharmaceutical manufacturing professionals. On the one hand, the job market is hot — for researchers, engineers, Lean and Six Sigma black belts, compliance specialists, and those at the top of their game. Biotech and new plant construction are strong, and the competition for top specialists is fiercer than ever. At the same time, wholesale layoffs continue, and U.S. jobs are steadily trickling overseas.
|For a graphic detailing the demographics of our survey respondents, go to the end of this article.|
The divide between the pharmaceutical manufacturing haves and have-nots is widening. Those with marketable and transferable skills — including soft skills such as communication and an appreciation for diversity — and those who manage their careers aggressively are moving up and on; workers who lack transferable skills or have failed to stay current of the latest technologies face an uncertain future.
Manufacturers are taking a pragmatic approach, with many assuming that new hires will only stay for three to five years. But while they’re there, employers are doing their best to keep star employees happy. “Employees are expecting more from their employers now than they ever have,” says Jeff Harvey, AstraZeneca’s U.S. recruiting director. “They want to be challenged and developed, and expect it earlier in their careers. And if they aren’t [getting what they expect], they’re moving on.”
But these are the elite. The average pharmaceutical manufacturing staffer is less sure of his or her livelihood than ever before. More than 55% of the 500 people who responded to this year’s annual job satisfaction and salary survey are concerned about job security (see "The Long and Short of Job Tenure" graphic, below), up from 44.4% last year. “There’s no such thing as a permanent job any more,” says Shannon Brannagan, director of KForce, a scientific staffing firm based in Tampa, Fla. “Even when you’re hired for a new full-time position, there’s concern.”
Some of those who responded to this year’s survey already know the writing’s on the wall, and that their jobs will soon be moving to another country. “Our owners have announced that they will take all or most of our manufacturing to Europe by 2007,” one of you said. “I fully expect to be laid off by this time next year.” Roughly 35% of you felt that there was a fair chance (between 10% and 30% possibility) that you would be laid off within the next two years (see "The Long and Short of Job Tenure" graphic, above).
To hear some of you tell it, women and minorities have little to be concerned about. They’re the darlings of recruiters and headhunters who represent firms that have mandates to increase workforce diversity. “The issue now is reverse discrimination,” one of you wrote. “Minorities and women have all the opportunities.”
Most women and minorities in our survey would beg to differ. They may have broken through the glass ceiling, but find that life within the plant has its hardships, and that their salaries are not yet on a par with those of white males. Our survey numbers bear this out (see "Money Talk" graphic, below). “Discrimination only comes from the group that holds power,” says Henry Ragin, an African American manufacturing supervisor with Wyeth Vaccines in Sanford, N.C. “If most of the executives and managers in a plant are black and female, then white men may have a gripe.”
In the end, the industry today holds threats and opportunities for all. Career success may come down to how you perceive your lot, and take action to improve it. “There are real issues out there, but perceptions can become reality,” says Leslie Alexandre, Ph.D., director of the North Carolina Biotech Center, who speaks regularly to drug industry professionals about their careers. “There is no complete job security any more, so you have to look for your opportunities. There’s a lot to be said for strong generalists who can connect the dots.”
Targeting the chosen few
If you have a few years of experience in the industry, and useful skills — a knack for IT or validation, say — you may already be on another drug company’s radar screen and not even know it. “The more sophisticated companies have realized that they need more people in the hiring pipeline, to be on the bench when the team needs them, so to speak,” says Richard Kneece, CEO of Massachusetts Technology Corp. (Allston, Mass.), which operates Internet career sites hireRx and hireBio. “They know in advance the people that they’d like to hire.”
Human resources departments and hiring managers are beating the bushes for qualified candidates, combing conferences and networking events, mining membership lists of professional organizations, all in pursuit of top talent. “There’s more targeting of passive candidates than there ever has been,” says AstraZeneca’s Harvey. “We know who some of those folks are that we want to talk to.”