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The Top Talent Trends in the Pharma Industry

Posted by Rick Lepsinger November 28, 2018

OnPoint_The Top Talent Trends in the Pharma Industry

Well-established companies in the pharmaceuticals industry are under significant pressure in today’s increasingly global marketplace. While these companies have tremendous resources at their disposal, they are now being forced to compete with a new generation of smaller, more agile biotech startups that have the freedom to react quickly due to their lack of cumbersome bureaucracies. Patent protections are no longer sufficient enough to shield established firms from the pressures of price competition and the widespread availability of generics, mostly due to the complicated litigations surrounding patent law.

Pharma companies have responded to these pressures by rethinking their talent acquisition and development processes. Product innovation alone isn’t enough to keep them ahead in a competitive marketplace. A 2016 survey of pharma executives found that of the six most serious issues related to a new product launch, four of them are related to talent. This explains why 60% of pharma companies are already updating their talent sourcing, with another 27% considering changes.

Here are some of the top talent trends in the pharma industry today:


The healthcare industry in general is experiencing unprecedented levels of disruption. Competition from international companies based in China and India has forced companies in the US to react quickly to protect their access to markets and protect their patents and proprietary technology. Political situations have also disrupted global markets. Whether it’s changing regulatory requirements in domestic healthcare laws or countries withdrawing from international trade agreements that apply to the pharma industry, companies need to keep apprised of political circumstances if they want to remain competitive. In this environment, agility and flexibility are critical for leadership success.

Technology has also been a disruptive force, affecting the way healthcare is delivered and how patients interact with the industry. Pharma companies are looking for people who understand the ways technology can help people take control of their lives. There is major opportunity for organizations willing to embrace the insights of big data and machine learning and find ways to incorporate virtual and augmented reality into both product research and product delivery. The next generation of pharma talent must find ways to adapt to these technologies or risk falling behind more innovative and risk-tolerant competitors.


With the economy becoming increasingly global, no company can afford to focus purely on the domestic market. Talent acquisition has become increasingly diverse as a result. Many HR departments look for candidates who have experience living abroad or working with international clients. Creating a culturally diverse workforce not only provides a wide range of perspectives that can make companies more effective in foreign markets, diversity of experience and thought also helps to drive innovation and enhance adaptability.

The push for diversity plays a key role in talent development as well. For multinational companies, ensuring that key employees have the opportunity to gain international experience is critical to building a diverse pool of talented problem solvers who understand the nuances of doing business in a global marketplace.

Diversity in terms of gender, race, and sexual orientation also brings more perspectives and voices into the room when organizations are seeking innovative solutions to problems. Research has demonstrated that diverse teams are not only more productive, but are also more likely to develop and implement the creative ideas that give their companies a competitive edge. In a disruptive market beset by unprecedented challenges, diversity of thought is a major advantage for organizations in the volatile pharma industry.

Knowledge Transfer

Today’s employees are less likely to remain with a single company than previous generations. In a complex industry like pharma, losing talent can be devastating due to the institutional knowledge they take with them. Companies are working now to ensure that knowledge is transferred more effectively to reduce the disruptive effect of turnover, especially in more technical and client-facing positions. Strong development programs can also help to ensure that incoming talent will have access to the knowledge necessary to confront the industry’s biggest challenges.

Feedback and Development

Millennials make up an increasing share of pharma talent, which has forced companies to adapt to this generation’s unique characteristics and needs. Chief among these needs is a strong desire for frequent performance feedback. They want to know how to better develop the skills that will make them more effective in their current role and more competitive for future positions. Investing in a feedback process that creates a conversation about their career development can go a long way toward keeping them engaged and contribute to higher retention rates.

Pharma companies are also working to make development tools more accessible and adaptable, making it more likely that employees will take advantage of them. Of course, simply making it easier to use developmental resources is only half of the challenge; companies must also find ways to encourage people to use them. The fast pace of the industry makes it difficult to carve out time for development without disrupting existing work-life balances, but overcoming this obstacle is crucial to building up the skilled talent base that organizations need to build long term success.

The pharma industry faces some significant challenges in today’s globalized market. With competition fiercer than ever, companies are experimenting with several strategies to build up a diverse, flexible base of talent that can lead them into the future. Only by embracing change and taking a long-term view of problems will they be able to find sustained success.

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Topics: pharma, leadership trends

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