Digitize to curb staffing challenges

May 18, 2022
Modern manufacturing solutions can spare pharma the worst of ongoing labor shortages

Pharmaceutical manufacturers face unique challenges, all of which are exacerbated by the ongoing shortages of skills and staffing in the manufacturing industry. As demand soars, the number of job candidates declines, and it is increasingly difficult for pharma manufacturers to rapidly produce safe, effective products in a tightly regulated market that has no margin for error.

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) reports that between 2023 and 2031, the U.S. labor pool will only grow 0.2% per year. Left unchecked, the issue of having a disproportionate number of jobs compared to qualified candidates could have an overwhelming impact on the economy. The 2021 Deloitte and NAM talent study estimates that we could reach 2031 with 2.1 million unfilled manufacturing jobs, and in that year alone, the skills and staffing shortages will cost the U.S. economy $1 trillion.

It’s important to understand that if changes are made today, these numbers do not need to become a reality. Addressing the full scope of the problem will take time, but one of the most effective steps to take right now is adopting a modern manufacturing solution. The outdated business model of relying on manual, paper-based processes is no longer sustainable because the industry is running low on its most valuable resource: people.

Pharma manufacturers need to employ systems that create efficiencies for workers so they can do more in less time. Digitization also makes it possible to retain and engage current employees, attract tech-savvy talent and meet growing demand.

Retain and engage

In the midst of a labor shortage, workers with skills specific to pharma manufacturing operations are in high demand, which makes it critical for pharma companies to retain current teams and make the best use of their time. The most effective way to do this is to ensure employees have opportunities to become engaged by investing their time in meaningful work, which ultimately adds to the success of the company.

According to a report by Gallup, there is a strong correlation between employee engagement and retention. Additionally, companies where at least 70% of employees are engaged see improvements in growth and profits.

Using paper-based processes hinders an organization’s ability to engage workers and optimize their time and skills. Manual tasks performed using paper are repetitive and can take hours to perform, and it isn’t uncommon for the work to include fixing mistakes created by using paper in the first place. For example, paper batch records are subject to human errors including incorrect or illegible entries, missing signatures or even lost or damaged records. The result is additional time spent addressing these mistakes.

With the technology available today, manual work that is dependent on paper and does not engage employees is largely unnecessary. By removing paper and digitizing, many tasks are automated, and the potential for human error is greatly reduced or eliminated entirely. Returning to the example of batch records, electronic batch records improve efficiency and reduce delays because incorrect, missing or out-of-date information is not allowed by the system.

Digitization can save pharma manufacturers a significant amount of time, and this empowers employees to work on more meaningful tasks, which can include product improvements or other innovations that make the product more effective. The next big idea that puts a pharma manufacturer on the map could come from an existing employee who has time to leverage their experience and add value. It’s just a matter of empowering workers by digitizing so they can find the time to contribute in new ways.

To illustrate this point, one pharma manufacturing customer estimated that each week, 30% of each operator’s time was spent on paper inefficiencies. Digitization eliminated the need to perform paper-based tasks, and thus every operator gained 12 hours per week to invest in engaging activities to help drive the company’s success.

In some cases, a portion of the time made available by more efficient processes should be dedicated to training, which will help employees get up to speed on the technology included as part of a modern manufacturing solution. This too is an important component of an effective retention strategy.

A recent McKinsey report noted that digitization is one of the most significant disruptors in pharma operations. In part, this is because technology changes how work is being performed, and as a result, new skills are required to perform certain jobs. The report stated, “Reskilling employees to address talent gaps can help a company retain the bulk of its operations workers and empower them to take advantage of a new world.”

Just as current employees are one of the strongest assets pharma manufacturers have to address the labor shortage, the same is true for acquiring the new skills required as part of digital transformation. Employers that adopt a modern manufacturing solution and dedicate the necessary resources to engaging and training their workforce will see a significant return on investment.

Attract tech-savvy talent

As you work to appeal to digital natives and individuals who have built careers around their ability to work intuitively with technology, digitizing operations and having a truly paperless shop floor can be a powerful recruiting tool. AMS, a workforce solutions firm, reports, “Transformative technology allows the candidate to understand the company culture and values so candidates can make informed choices as to whether the company is one they want to work for.”

Among other things, a modern manufacturing solution indicates that a company fosters a culture where employees are given the tools they need to be successful and innovative. It also signals to candidates that a company is invested in being an industry leader while making a commitment to producing a high-quality product that can change lives. Top talent is drawn to these organizations.

You’re ultimately building an adaptable workforce that is comfortable with change. This is key when it comes to adopting a modern manufacturing solution and being able to take full advantage of the flexibility it provides. In pharma manufacturing, demand for certain products is always fluctuating, and you need the right people with the necessary skills so you can adapt quickly.

Digitize now

Within a decade, the manufacturing industry could face a shortage of skills and staff that will cost the U.S. economy $1 trillion in 2031 alone — but it doesn’t have to be that way.

By digitizing now, manufacturers can streamline operations, leverage the skills of existing employees, and attract tech-savvy talent. Pharma manufacturers who accomplish this will be able to keep up with inevitable changes in the industry, and not only will they be able to meet current demand, but they will be flexible enough to move faster than the competition.

About the Author

Dave Edwards | Chief Revenue Officer