Addressing pharma’s workforce training crisis

June 8, 2021
The increase in precision medicine requires a more personalized approach to training

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the pharmaceutical industry was moving at a breakneck pace, growing 225% between 2001 and 2020 to more than $1.27 trillion market value.

Now, as the FDA continues to approve more drugs faster than ever before, the industry is facing a workforce training crisis as employees need to be trained not only on updated products, compliance, quality assurance, and updated supply chains, but are now also required to handle more specialty drugs and therapies that necessitate an individualized approach.

And with this wealth of new responsibility and knowledge comes the realization that, as technology has developed, people no longer learn how they used to. Gone are the days of multiple all-day seminars once a year to update an entire department. The rise of technology in the workforce, along with the increased speed in how employees must learn has moved workforce training from passive to active … or, brain-based learning.

Many in the pharma industry are still learning the best ways to continue to update training while ensuring quality, speed, and accuracy are not lost. As health care is becoming more personalized, workforce training also must adapt to a personalized training experience for employees in order to remain competitive.

This article outlines some of the key lessons we have learned along the way. 

Training can’t be stagnant

Training is not a one and done, especially in the pharma industry. There are constantly new tools and topics to learn. More so, research proves that about 70% of any new information is lost within 24 hours. So, how do we not only teach information correctly, but ensure we retain it?

Create a learning calendar

Let’s start at the very beginning. According to Gallup, more than 88% of employees feel that they are not adequately trained when they joined their company. Further research shows that the biggest attrition of knowledge and room for improvement during training happened within the first 12 months. This was mainly due to not focusing enough on the onboarding experience followed by continued reinforcement of the learning methods. To combat that it’s important to create not only an onboarding training program, but an entire one-year training experience which includes daily, monthly, and quarterly blended learning experiences for employees.

Focus on proven ways that help people learn

There are seven distinct learning styles, which means just a one-day class in a classroom setting could only be setting up one-seventh of our workforce for success. Blended learning, which mixes reading assignments with group and classes is becoming more popular. However, science also shows that the more you learn in one sitting, the less you’ll remember.

Enter microlearning and gamification

Tools like Axonify allow teams to spend three to five minutes every day answering five questions, designed for their role, in the middle of playing a game. By mixing microlearning with quizzes and encouraging the gamification format, employees look forward to retaining knowledge. 

It’s more than functional skills

In order to have a strong culture, workforce training cannot just be the functional skills. When there is low emotional intelligence (EQ) in a workplace, accountability, customer service issues and general employee morale suffer. While some studies show that 24% to 69% of an employee’s workplace performance is due to EQ, a report from McKinsey revealed that pharma operations executives do not yet see the need to train for social and emotional skills, despite the fact that frontline workers rank these skills as critical for success.

Bring in the experts

No one is immune to a bad day, but having repeated bad days because of deficient social and emotional skills can effect accuracy, results and customer satisfaction. In fact, research shows that customer experience is often more important than product quality, so even when orders are accurate, if the customer experience is less than optimal, it can lead to business erosion. To combat this, its important to bring in experts than can help employees lean how to act, instead of relying on only internal leaders.

Ensure your team translates customer service into their role

EQ focuses on training employees to feel empowered to make decisions that help in critical and emergency type situations. For example: If the policy is to require written approval for orders and a client contact is traveling then an employee should feel empowered to accept approval over the phone to get an order out the door and then have the contact follow up with an email when they get to a place where they can. However, teams also need to understand where compliance and adherence policies fit into those decisions. To continue reinforcing the principles learned from consultants, and further expand the training on delivery of a high-level of customer experience, we developed the EASEE methodology:

  • Empathize, listen and show compassion
  • Acknowledge the customer's situation
  • Seek information and clear understanding
  • Explain options/timing/costs
  • Establish appropriate expectations

Each employee is encouraged to use this tool to not only adapt their training to their role, but to understand when flexibility in their role is required.

Tracking people analytics

Just like training methods, how companies track workforce development and knowledge retention is just as important. With so much data at our fingertips, we no longer have to wait for order inaccuracies, decreases employee morale, or worse yet, lost accounts or orders. Personalization in training allows companies to focus on what their employees need more help on both as a team overall and as individuals.

Give managers tools they need to measure performance

Utilize microlearning tools that quiz employees on leadership-identified information, specific by role. These types of tools give managers access to see how their teams are retaining and learning the identified methodologies. Managers can learn where there was a misstep or confusion about a training based on how multiple people answer a question incorrectly, or maybe just one employee who has answered one question wrong four times in the past three weeks.

This knowledge empowers managers to be able to have consistent feedback dialogues with employees without relying on emotions or feedback from other employees alone. We also ask our employees how they felt about different parts of training, and what they learned from it. Used together, these tools can narrow in on why mistakes are being made, and address them in the moment, or use it as an opportunity to update or create new training materials.

Benchmark the industry leaders

Internal improvement scores in workforce training are always a success, but to really know if you’re making an impact, you must watch the benchmarks in the industry as a whole.  Benchmarking workforce training effectiveness data of the industry allows your company to create health competition and continue to innovate. Consultants are useful here because they work with different industries and have a general idea of the benchmarks. Net promoter scores are another measurement that we use internally in order to hear directly from the customer.

As the world moves towards a new normal following the COVID-19 pandemic, with more FDA approvals, site visits and solutions, what are you doing to train and empower your workforce?

About the Author

Joel Wayment | Vice President of Operations at Cardinal Health Third Party Logistics Services