According to a 2018 study, “the U.S. will have to fill 3.5 million STEM jobs by 2025, with more than 2 million of them going unfilled because of the lack of highly skilled candidates in demand.”
In addition, a Deloitte survey found that global manufacturing executives believed the search for skilled talent was the key driver of manufacturing competitiveness, and they see a clear talent shortage in the US manufacturing sector.
While a talent shortage in API manufacturing has been discussed for some time now, the talk has diminished recently as more urgent issues, such as the pandemic, take center stage. Yet, the shortage of qualified talent and its impact on the next generation of scientists, could have devastating consequences on the country’s global competitiveness, as well as scientific innovation.
Consider that while COVID-19 has uncovered weaknesses in the supply chain and our reliance on off-shore manufacturing, the fact of the matter is that even if we’re able to re-onshore manufacturing back to the U.S., will we have the people to fill those jobs?
The key to keeping U.S. competitiveness strong lies in how we teach students. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2019, 1.9 million STEM educated professionals will be needed in the U.S. However, the bureau reports that approximately 40 percent of students who intend to major in STEM end up switching to other subjects. Part of the problem cited in the article is that students are more interested in subjects that provide hands-on learning as opposed to theory.
API manufacturers everywhere struggle with the need to fill key positions across the board – from chemists and engineers, to project managers, quality control managers and operators. So how can we fill key positions and raise interest among the next generation to build upon the nation’s position as a leader in drug discovery, development and manufacturing? Below are five ways:
- Understand that not everyone needs a college degree. One of the most needed positions in API manufacturing is that of a chemical operator, and this role doesn’t require a college degree. While it can be a physically demanding job, many Contract Development & Manufacturing Organizations (CDMOs) offer good pay and benefits along with job stability to chemical operators, who are tasked with executing the batch record steps, carrying out reactions, and checking the final product. There’s a mindset today that everyone needs to go to college, but that may not be the case. There are critical jobs that are left unfilled because students are taught to believe that professional careers are the only way to go.
- Look for diverse talent pools. In many cases, minorities and immigrant workers with strong math and English skills can be a good place to recruit in the plant. They are often eager for the opportunity, and can help CDMOs foster a culture of diversity and inclusiveness.
- Grow talent from within. Many companies have learned that if experienced or Ph.D.- level candidates are difficult to find, the best way to pick the right person for the job is to nurture from within. Promoting employees as they continue their education and training is a good way to ensure that your employees understand your Standard Operation Procedures (SOPs) and methodologies from the ground up. And, working for a smaller CDMO is a good way to hone critical skills, since many projects are being carried out at once, and roles might not be as inflexible or rigid as with big pharma firms.
- Make it more than just a job. It’s simply essential in such a competitive market to offer good benefits packages, salaries and other check-off items, yet employees want to feel like their opinions are valued, their contributions are appreciated and that they are truly part of a caring community.
- Create new government incentives. Government also has a role to play in making sure we have the talent pool to compete. It can offer more tax incentives to companies that hire immigrants, or relax H-1B visa regulations so more foreign workers can remain in the U.S. Also, federal, state and local government can offer more funding of vocational technical schools so that students can learn a trade in the sciences. And, the higher education systems should be closely examined so that costs are more reasonable, and more diversified fields of studies are encouraged.
We can’t let a lack of talent diminish the nation’s ability to innovate and manufacture new drugs and medical treatments, yet to reignite the field requires collaboration and cooperation among private business, the government and our education system. Perhaps by being open minded, embracing a diverse workforce and doing away with age-old notions of what defines success, we can begin to set the stage for a new generation of talent.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. You can reach us here at Seqens CDMO NA at (978) 462-5555, or firstname.lastname@example.org.