Skill gap in Indian Pharma Industry
Indian Pharma: Pharmacy to the world
India is the largest provider of generic drugs globally. Indian pharmaceutical sector supplies over 50 per cent of global demand for various vaccines, 40 per cent of generic demand in the US and 25 per cent of all medicine in the UK.
Indian pharmaceutical sector is expected to grow to US$ 100 billion by 2025. Pharmaceuticals export from India stood at US$ 20.70 billion in FY20.1
Indian pharmaceutical sector is expected to grow at a CAGR of 22.4 per cent in the near future and medical device market expected to grow US$ 25 billion by 2025. India is the second largest contributor of global biotech and pharmaceutical workforce. The pharmaceutical sector was valued at US$ 33 billion in 2017.2
Skill development – Why is it “Need of the hour”
For any major corporations and multinational companies, Asian countries have always been the preferred manufacturing hubs. There are many reasons for the same and one of them is abundance of cheap laborer. India has emerged as an attractive market as well as a production base because of its high numbers of skilled and unskilled workers that bring the production costs of the companies down exponentially and with a market as big as India, the profit is there for the taking for the pharmaceuticals.
A country as big as India is full of potential but also has its own faults. The state of affairs in the Pharmaceutical industries and country has left a gaping hole in the available skilled workers needed by the Pharmaceutical sector. Majority of the pharmaceutical manufacturing units are located in remote places and hence no one is really willing to relocate to these remote areas. Decades of dabbling into generic medicine has seen a lesser importance being given to Research and development of new drugs and the hence the medical industry has fallen behind in terms of inventing medicines to counter diseases and issues plaguing the local population and with already scarce skilled workers in the pharmaceutical sector, the problem is only going to get worse.3
In the waning days of December 2019, the world learned that a novel and deadly coronavirus had appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan. In February, many chemical plants across China were ordered closed for a 1-week extension of the New Year holiday, after which quarantines impeded the return to work. By the end of that month, a significant break in the pharmaceutical supply chain appeared imminent as the virus and COVID-19, the disease it causes, spread across the Northern Hemisphere.
India depends on China for 70% of the ingredients and APIs it turns into generic pharmaceutical products, according to a report from the consulting firm KPMG, and the government in March 2020 committed $1.3 billion to promote the manufacture of drug ingredients domestically. The program calls for establishing three drug-making industrial parks, expedited approval for capacity expansions and new manufacturing sites, and investment incentives to boost output of APIs and key starting materials.4
With ever changing business dynamics in COVID-19 era, when the India looks very promising to increase manufacturing of APIs and formulations to cater the global demand. Do we have enough of “Think Tank” to fuel the “Business War”?!
Skill is a term that encompasses the knowledge, competencies and abilities to perform operational tasks. Skills are developed through life and work experiences and they can also be learned through study.5
As per WHO, training is required if there is a gap between current status and desired status, to maintain the level of competence and to respond the new technologies and methods. 6
Subrata Chakraborty, Senior Director – Technical Services, Cipla informs that investing in a robust learning management program led by qualified and competent professionals is an immutable need for the pharma and biotech industry.7
He further adds that “Many times the judgment of skill levels go wrong while recruiting or deploying an employee on a specific job role. From an outsider’s perspective, one might be curious- why a university graduate or a young industry beginner from another company can’t be directly assigned on a core pharma operations role, soon after their joining? But the reality is, the gap between academic courses and the practical applications of the same in the industry, and with the need for accuracy in the business of ‘saving lives’, makes it nearly impossible.”
Sanjeev Goel, Business Head, Manipal ProLearn highlights that the pharma sector needs an agile workforce to leverage opportunities and overcome challenges in a post-COVID world and emphasizes that pharma organizations should assess and calibrate employees in terms of their skill levels to address development areas through reskilling or upskilling.
With the global markets reducing their dependence on China for drugs due to its poor handling of the COVID-19 spread, it is expected that India will fill that gap through ramping up production and exports of generics and APIs in the coming months.
This represents both an opportunity and a challenge for India’s pharma industry to redefine their processes and approaches. The redefinition needs to start from assessing and calibrating individual employees in terms of their skill levels. Once assessed, the development areas need to be addressed through being reskilled or upskilled to cope with the new technologies and advances in their respective functional domain. 8
Skill Pyramid and Focus areas
In a report9 published by National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) it has been observed that the skills required in pharmaceutical and chemical industry are much higher (Fig.1) than that of few other industries as it involves research and development (R&D), new processes in formulation and development (F&D), highly knowledgeable sales force and stringent regulatory requirements.
Figure 1: Skill pyramid for the chemicals and pharmaceutical industry
The NSDC report also stated that focus of skill building in pharmaceutical sector should be targeted towards operators and sales personnel. Few of the possible focus areas are shown in the following table:
The manufacturing of medicine requires different chemicals and components which have to go through a complex process to reach the desired concoction. Skilled workers are needed to oversee the process and make necessary adjustments and changes in case something goes wrong. An unskilled worker can’t replace a skilled one and perform the same duties without any problems. Unsupervised and uninformed actions in the manufacturing process of medicines can have disastrous consequences.
Skill Development Initiatives
NEEM Scheme Advantage
NEEM stands for National Employability Enhancement Mission and is a government of India initiative targeted towards providing unemployed youth with skill set and training required to be employed in the numerous industries all over the country which is facing a shortage of skilled workers. NEEM scheme is a game changer and can be seen as tailor-made to avert the crisis of shortage of skilled labor in the pharmaceutical industries. The scheme focuses on providing apprenticeship that will teach these workers the details of the job and help them make a career in the industries they are interested in providing them with employment and resolving the issue of shortage of skilled workers in the respective industries as in this case, the pharmaceutical sector.10
Indegene Academy: Indegene, a global solutions provider to the life science and biotech industry, has launched Indegene Academy to accelerate digital upskilling amongst industry professionals. The company has launched this as a global service for nuanced learning in the highly regulated pharma industry, and the initiative is expected to fastrack digital application with domain knowledge and evolve nimble response mechanisms for pharma stakeholders.11
The way forward…!
Charu Sehgal, Partner and Leader, Lifesciences and Healthcare, Deloitte India in an interaction with ETHealthworld stated that “There is a need to re-evaluate the existing structures and create a more responsive structure with improved infrastructure, capacity and skills.”
She also emphasized on need to make research and surveillance institutions more contemporary and undertake gap-filling especially in the newer areas of AI (Artificial Intelligence), ML (Machine Learning), data sciences, social media communication.12
PharmaState Academy is a Pharma Learning Hub which is working for closing the skill gap in Pharma Industry.
Objective: To be the trusted Partner of Pharmaceutical Industry in providing highly skilled workforce which is capable of producing the highest quality of medicines for the healthcare industry.
How are we doing this: We are providing value-based skill trainings to Freshers as well as Experienced professionals of Pharma Industry.
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Written & Researched By: Tanmay Thakar
- World Health Organization. Designing and implementing training programs. Human Resources Management. 2012;52.0-52