Do pharmaceutical businesses need to rethink what their graduate schemes offer?

by Stephen Riddle

As the world and the UK continues its march out of the pandemic’s shadow, the pharmaceutical and life sciences sector has been squarely in the spotlight.

In the UK, the Government has often said that we are indebted to the astonishing power of life sciences, especially in the pandemic’s context. The Government has identified the development of a pipeline of highly skilled talent as a key component in the UK economy’s continued growth.

However, on the ground, the pandemic has made a sharp dent in the employment market. Disruption to education and a general ambiguity as to the future of working life have resulted in many graduates feeling lost when building fulfilling careers. While knowing where to start and taking advantage of the right opportunities has always been a challenge, the pandemic has further deepened this quandary.

The pharmaceutical industry prizes highly skilled and motivated individuals. The sector offers multi-faceted career paths and provides a large variety of roles but has often been hamstrung by the lack of visibility and insufficient motivation to provide clear and transparent information.

Graduate schemes, while a great way to gain a toehold in a competitive working environment, are often accused of being too general and not allowing candidates the freedom to really find their feet in a particular stream of interest. The pharmaceutical sector has traditionally struggled to access the right talent thereby causing a markedly growing skills-gap in the industry.

Having identified the deficiencies in the talent pipeline, my own pharma company, Pharmanovia, offers graduates and professionals looking to take the next step in the industry the chance to contribute to large-scale real-world projects. It also provides the freedom for entrants to explore a variety of sub-divisions in an agile, fast-moving, and global business, and to sharpen their own understanding of the areas that interest them.

Rosa Butot and Callum Wordsworth, two bright young previous graduates, began their careers as Executive Graduates in the strategy team. Over the last couple of years, the duo has helped senior management implement global strategic initiatives and refine key business processes. I had the opportunity to work closely with both candidates and what stood out was the sheer visibility they had of our expansive business. The lessons learned from working in diverse areas and the confidence earned from interacting with a multi-cultural employee population at different levels will surely stand them in good stead and allow them to develop well-rounded view of the sector’s requirements and potential.

While graduate schemes that provide freedom of movement and actual exposure to the nitty-gritties of the pharmaceutical business are rare, it is in our interest to offer as widespread a picture of our businesses to new starters as possible. An oft-repeated gripe from new entrants to large-cap pharmaceutical businesses is that they get the feeling they are being ‘put in a box’, leading up to interest in the sector drying up.  We need to steer away from such rigidity and recognise that in an industry as complex as ours, cross-functional roles, flat hierarchical structures, and pushing new starters to explore as much of the business as possible, can be a great way to drum up interest and foster a culture of excellence.

“We need to steer away from such rigidity and recognise that in an industry as complex as ours, cross-functional roles, flat hierarchical structures, and pushing new starters to explore as much of the business as possible, can be a great way to drum up interest and foster a culture of excellence.”

It is important to empower new entrants into the business. With businesses looking to build up talent pipelines and a rise in employer demand predicted, entrusting new talent with responsibility, providing them with security around their roles, encouraging proactivity, and providing leeway to grow into their role, allows them to go above and beyond. Pharmanovia is currently offering a wide variety of roles across divisions and is actively looking to nurture a vibrant and dynamic workforce. Diversity, especially in pharma, is of acute importance. A lack of diversity often leads businesses to adopt blinkered practices, hindering holistic growth, and creating blind spots.

While our sector has made substantial strides towards making working environments diverse and inclusive, we still have some way to go when it comes to striking the right balance between genders. This is where graduate schemes can make their presence felt, by identifying, empowering, and grooming talent for the future and setting the scene for the industry to take transformative steps.

Over the last two years, the sheer importance of the pharmaceutical industry has become even clearer. Without the tremendous strides made by pharma businesses, the global situation would be far bleaker. The world of pharma is diverse, intricate, and fast-moving. It is vital that we continue to open access to the sector, offer graduates attractive opportunities to develop their careers, and enhance our intake schemes to ensure that we are consistently drawing in a diverse blend of graduates to propel our industry forward.

About the author:

Dr. James Burt is CEO of Pharmanovia.

Pharmanovia is a dynamic, fast-growing international pharmaceutical company with a portfolio of over 20 brands across more than 140 markets. Our mission is to improve patient health globally through the revitalisation of niche, tried-and-trusted medicines.

For current vacancies at Pharmanovia, please visit the careers page.

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