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Talent Transformation in Pharma: Getting Ahead of Change in Pharma Manufacturing

talent transformation in pharma operations

Only 40% of pharma companies believe they know where their skill gaps are.

This is especially true when we look at manufacturing and supply chain in the industry, which are evolving at a dramatic pace with the move to Pharma 2.0 strategies. From new treatment modalities to new go-to-market practices, pharmaceutical companies are faced with the need to adapt many aspects of their manufacturing operations.

To sustain the growth of their companies in these conditions, talent leaders cannot simply react to the business. They need to preemptively identify areas of potential change, and transform into the kind of agile, data-driven organization that can help the business win. When it comes to manufacturing and supply chain specifically, there are a few of these areas of change that talent leaders should be looking at.

Adapting to automation and AI in pharma manufacturing

The skills required to run a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant today are different from what they were even five years ago. For one, pharmaceutical executives expect that automation will affect 27% of jobs every year in their industry for the next decade. For example, documentation-related activities, which take up about 30% of staff time today, could be drastically reduced as manufacturing processes move to automated documentation systems.

What does this mean from a talent perspective? Certainly a reduction in manual labor time, but also in compliance-related activities. It also implies a need for staff to run and audit these new no-touch documentation processes. Both of these changes are opportunities for the talent team to work with the business and determine where new skills will be needed and where there is potential for reskilling and internal mobility programs.

Improvements in manufacturing planning and utilization will impact talent priorities

Another area of change to look at is the rising pressure for pharma companies to improve their operations strategy, and for good reason: there are significant savings to be made by improving stock management with better forecasting, for example, or by optimizing product flow between locations. With 80% of pharma executives expecting to face “high” to “very high” cost pressure this year and the next, these kinds of initiatives are sure to be high on the priority list.

talent transformation in pharma operations increase in cost pressure

One obvious area of operational improvements for these executives is the utilization of their production plants. There is an increasing gap between the technical capacity of production facilities and the actual utilization rate that companies are able to get out of them. Tablet presses and packing lines, for example, have increased in sophistication and efficiency in recent years, but the training and skills of monitoring staff has not kept up, resulting in many lines being operated at a much lower speed than their technical specifications, or being stopped frequently to avoid mechanical or quality issues.

talent transformation pharma operations

To respond to this challenge, pharma companies are looking into ways to augment these monitoring processes with AI algorithms fed with data from sensors on the equipment. This opens two opportunities for talent leaders to be proactive: investigate how to source the operators needed for these new, data-heavy roles monitoring processes, and partner with the people organization to build reskilling or internal mobility programs for the staff that will be made redundant from these changes.

It is easy to see how talent leaders can provide similar value in the case of other types of operational changes, such as digital transformation initiatives, improvement of quality control processes, or outsourcing parts of the production to international markets. Talent leaders who can, for instance, preemptively deploy talent attraction campaigns in new markets, or quickly surface warmed-up candidates with the right digital skills in their databases, can offer a serious advantage to the business.

Winning in CGT will require more sophisticated talent sourcing strategies

The recent ramp-up of demand for cell and gene therapy (CGT) is maybe one of the most dramatic operational changes affecting the pharmaceutical industry in recent years. Both the fabrication and delivery of CGT are complex enough that they are a major blocker to business growth in this sub-sector.

Understandably, demand for talent in this area is fierce: companies who can set up decentralized manufacturing networks and an effective supply chain first will dominate their respective markets, so there is an opportunity for talent leaders to provide an incredible head start to the business by recruiting the right talent quickly.

The challenge with filling roles that didn’t exist just a few years ago is of course that talent teams need to define their recruiting strategy from scratch—there are no convenient competitors to poach from, or widely adopted job titles to make searches easier. They need to step outside of their usual hunting grounds, and source in a slew of different functions and industries despite the challenge of operating in a heavily regulated space.

The move towards AI-powered talent technology, with skills collected and inferred from the market using talent data graphs instead of traditional databases, makes this transition not only possible, but easy. Recruiters will be able to look at candidates in terms of skills and competencies, instead of job roles or job titles, making the search for candidates to fill these new roles much easier. They will also be able to speed up processes by relying on algorithms to surface candidates with similar or adjacent skill quickly. The technology for these recruiting workflows already exists—for talent leaders, it is simply a matter of looking ahead, and showing the business why it will make a huge difference for their future plans.


The changes happening in operations in the pharmaceutical industry present an opportunity for real transformation for talent teams. There is an immediate need not only to hire for new skills, but also to reallocate or retrain existing staff in partnership with the people function.

By identifying these possible areas of partnership and improvement early, talent leaders can drive incredible value creation for the business. The next step is to explore what this transformation can look like, and how to fill the gap between their current state and their vision for the future.