Revalidating grandpa

May 30, 2019
For pharma, it pays to update facilities and mindsets
I am bored with reading articles about adjusting work environments to accommodate the growing list of “Millennial” demands. While I’ll never refute the value of keeping up with technology, the jury is still out on how an in-office barista, napping pods or a “bring your pet to work” policy will enhance my workplace productivity.

Currently, the pharma industry is facing the reality that both its workforce and its manufacturing facilities are aging. As you will read in this month’s cover story, without proper maintenance and upgrading, older facilities and equipment become liabilities. Aging equipment increases the risk of contamination, which can in turn trigger recalls and quality-related issues. Not only can this lead to patient safety concerns and huge financial headaches, but it also plays a big role in our ongoing drug shortage problem.

But are aging workers also a liability? Should the industry be encouraging retirement to make way for the next generation of pharma? While it’s true that younger generations have grown up with technology as a way of life and are thus inherently digitally fluent, tech-savviness can be taught — arguably more easily than transferring years of acquired institutional knowledge. 

A few years ago, BMW made public its efforts to “reinvent” its factory for aging workers. The “Today for Tomorrow” project was founded on the belief that the age of an employee has little influence on their ability to learn. BMW made physical changes: bringing physiotherapists onto the factory floor to teach line workers how to stay limber during repetitive tasks, outfitting workers with more comfortable shoes, installing easier-to-read computer screens, and even bringing more daylight into the factories. The company also made psychological changes: BMW redesigned its approach to learning in a way that combined working and learning processes of both older and younger workers. Ultimately, the collective improvements made the work environment safer, more comfortable and more efficient for all workers, regardless of age.

When things start going wrong in facilities, companies typically don’t level the building and start over. Rather than pushing “grandpa” out the door to make room for a kitchen full of gluten-free snack options, maybe the solution lies in updating facilities and workers simultaneously. 

When it comes to updating facilities, validation requirements in pharma certainly add complexity. But putting off the updating process only delays the inevitable equipment breakdown or regulatory citation that’s likely to be more costly in the long run than the upgrade would have been.

If the proper maintenance is performed and upgrades are made, aging facilities still have tremendous potential — and the same goes for workers. In the same way that the “facility of the future” does not have to be brand new construction, the workforce of the future does not need to be brand new hires. When given the right tools, grandpa can still hang with the best of them.

About the Author

Karen P. Langhauser | Chief Content Director, Pharma Manufacturing

Karen currently serves as Pharma Manufacturing's chief content director.

Now having dedicated her entire career to b2b journalism, Karen got her start writing for Food Manufacturing magazine. She made the decision to trade food for drugs in 2013, when she joined Putman Media as the digital content manager for Pharma Manufacturing, later taking the helm on the brand in 2016.

As an award-winning journalist with 20+ years experience writing in the manufacturing space, Karen passionately believes that b2b content does not have to suck. As the content director, her ongoing mission has been to keep Pharma Manufacturing's editorial look, tone and content fresh and accessible.

Karen graduated with honors from Bucknell University, where she majored in English and played Division 1 softball for the Bison. Happily living in NJ's famed Asbury Park, Karen is a retired Garden State Rollergirl, known to the roller derby community as the 'Predator-in-Chief.'