“Biopharma industry in India needs diversified talent specializing in digital transformation and automation”

by admin July 05, 2022 No comments Expert Talk

Benjamin James, HR Business Partner, Asia-Pacific, Cytiva

Cytiva, a global provider of technologies and services that advance and accelerate the development of therapeutics, supports customers at every stage of biomanufacturing, from clinical trials to commercial manufacture. At the same time, the company is addressing the talent crunch within the biopharma sector. As an ecosystem builder and industry leader, Cytiva has helped build a very solid foundation of talent development for India biopharma industry. In conversation with BioSpectrum Jobs, Benjamin James, HR Business Partner, Asia-Pacific, Cytiva shares more in this regard.

What is the current ‘Talent Crunch’ scenario in the biopharma sector in India?

Before we talk about “Talent Crunch in the Biopharma sector,” we should talk about the changing landscape of the biopharma industry in itself. COVID-19 made it clear that biomolecules save the world. Hence, the industry gained a lot of prominence in the last two years.

In India, healthcare has become the centre of government’s agenda. The budget allocation for health research in India has increased by 20%. 22% of this budget is allocated to research related to biosecurity preparedness. Secondly, there’s a shift in the biopharma industry dynamics. With the approach changing from “make in India” to “develop in India”, there’s a stronger focus on collaboration and rural areas. Finally, technology-backed transformation: the influx of new digital startup poses huge potential for transformation.

The landscape we see above accentuates the ‘talent crunch’ scenario in India.

According to Cytiva’s 2021 Global Biopharma Resilience Index, talent pool is the weakest pillar globally in the biopharma industry. In the same vein,India scored 6.15 out of 10 in the talent pool pillar, making it one of the weakest results in Asia compared to Singapore, South Korea, China, Japan and Australia. 65% of respondents in India have pointed out that it is challenging to find R&D and manufacturing talent in the country – with only 35% & 41% of them respectively thinking that it’s not a challenge to recruit in those areas.

When we dissect the talent into three categories, we will be able to see the issue closer. The three talent categories would include a) the ones who design solutions b) the ones who make solutions and c) the ones who sell and service. Additionally, we have two groups of companies – a) manufactures and b) suppliers.

The ones who design solutions are part of Research / Engineering / Digital arm of the company and the competition for talent here is enormous. We many a times need to apply the “BUY” strategy as “BUILD” from within takes time.

The ones who make the solutions are part of manufacturing arm of the company. This is clearly an area where we lack exposure and capability. The manufacturing hubs of India’s biopharma industry exist in concentrated pockets today. This means export of talent is limited by geographical location. The exposure of talent to manufacturing processes has limited reach. On the contrary, today’s biopharma industry gains significantly from talent who have GMP (Goods Manufacturing Process) experience. This poses a real issue of manufacturing exposure and ecosystem crunch.

The ones who sell and service are part of the commercial arm of the company. This group is generally a tenured one, and show a lot of longevity with their current company. Talent exchange here is limited.

With the rising demand in the biopharma sector, how can we manage this talent crunch in India?

In summary, we have 3 different types of talent crunch in the biopharma sector a) talent supply crunch b) manufacturing exposure and ecosystem crunch and c) diversified talent pool crunch. To address the talent supply crunch, we should device a “Buy & Build” pipeline for the designer profiles. To tackle exposure and ecosystem crunch, we should apply a “Collaborate & Exchange” strategy between industry. To address “diversification crunch”, we should scale partnership with academia to “Promote & Prepare” STEM enthusiasts towards the industry.

We also need to look at two ways of approaching this strategy – what we can do externally for the industry as an ecosystem builder, and what we can do internally as an employer to attract and retain talent.

India’s biotechnology industry, estimated to reach 150 billion dollars by 2025, expects to see the number of emerging biotech companies boom from 3475 to more than 10000.

To manage the talent crunch in India, the biopharma industry needs diversified talent – not only Chemistry and Biology graduates – but also graduates specializing in digital transformation and automation.

Another area where the talent inflow can be supplemented is through R&D and innovation.

To attract talent, Cytiva competes with other biopharma as well as digital players by showcasing our strong commitment to inclusion and diversity. We’re proud to say that as at 2021, and globally, 40% of our individual contributors and 33% of our people managers are women.

As a follow up to our comprehensive Cytiva Global Biopharma Resilience Index launched last year, this year’s study, which focuses on government policy and regulation and its impact on the resilience of the global biopharma system, revealed a bright spot in India.

When asked whether government initiatives to increase the pipeline of talent the industry needs (for example via funding university courses, or by adjusting labour regulations to allow us to more easily recruit the talent we need), 18% of respondents in India, compared to 8% throughout Asia Pacific, are positive that it would increase to a great extent. As an industry leader and ecosystem builder, Cytiva has been supporting the Indian biotechnology industry for more than 30 years through forging close collaborations between the industry, government and academia. For example, this year, Cytiva collaborated with Bangalore Bioinnovation Centre to set up a world class incubation center to provide bioprocessing training programs to support the start-up ecosystem in India.

We are also evaluating various strategic locations to expand our FastTrak presence and partnership with biotechnology companies across India.

What are the basic talent/skill requirements for jobs in the biopharma sector in India?

We have to answer this in two ways. a) The requirement today for being an employer of choice and b) the skill needs in Biopharma today.

To be the employer of choice, we recognize that there are 4 key requirements.

According to a recent study by Mercer, we are living in an era of “Relatable Organizations.”. This means talent gets attracted to organizations that reflect their values. This is no different for the biopharma sector.

Secondly, people would like to work as partners rather than an employer-employee relationship. They are exploring different work contracts (freelancing, part-time, shared, full-time etc.) and work models (onsite, hybrid, remote). We are glad to share that Cytiva has embraced the Future of Work in India. We have people who work in all three types of work models – predominantly, 89% of our associates are tagged as Hybrid, while only 3% of our workforce in India are tagged as onsite. In addition, 95% of people leaders in India have had 1-1 conversations with their staff on the Future of Work and we see a higher index of happiness and productivity.

Thirdly, people prefer companies where “Wellbeing” is at the center.  The pandemic has proven that we have transitioned from work-life balance to work-life integration. Companies that have a caring culture and operating mechanism are more appealing. In Cytiva, we have several initiatives to cite around wellbeing at the center. We have a dedicated taskforce driving agenda around “wellbeing”; our benefit program touches all aspects of wellness – from mental to financial; our policy is linked to wellbeing; our annual engagement survey measures the progress on wellbeing. Most importantly the company openly promotes “meaningful flexibility” as a culture.

Lastly, everyone wants to be associated with a company that creates an impact for generations to come. We in Cytiva focus on this big time through our sustainability efforts. We have a three-pillar agenda around Planet, People and Foundation. What products we make and how we make them are linked to our impact on the planet – for example, carbon emissions, plastics, water and also, on society.

Skill needs in Biopharma today

As the Biopharma industry continues to evolve, it increases the demand to develop a pool of skilled workers. Process development and manufacturing operations are two major areas of skill development in India. There is a growing focus on niche drugs for smaller patient populations. The industry is moving from making one antibody with huge investment in one plant to multi-product facilities. This change brings the need for new skills. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Technical support operations for both upstream and downstream manufacturing
    • People who can facilitate both design and transfer process
    • Large / Small scale column packing
    • Cell and Gene therapy technology
    • Automation and digital
    • Working GMP (Good Manufacturing Process) knowledge
    • System Integration

How is Cytiva ensuring that they are getting the right talent as per international standards within India?

Cytiva India is a microcosm of global Cytiva. India houses talent across all functions – R&D, Digital, Marketing, Sales, and Services. This gives India Cytiva the unique advantage of hiring diverse talent group. Most of these talent work with global stakeholders, hence the hiring standards automatically level play with international standards.

Cytiva India’s R&D center, founded in 2008, is a world-class institution that now has 100+ scientists and 110 patents. This is a flagship facility for attracting world-class talent.

Our associates in India are all working on global projects. For example, in 2020, our India R&D center contributed to our global technology innovation – the Xcellerex Automated Perfusion System for a more efficient manufacture of biotherapeutics.

Cytiva brings a strong focus on people through process. There are several in-house learning and development programs to coach, train, mentor, and ultimately develop talent with opportunities that vary from on-the-job, classroom and community learning.

How is Cytiva using AI/ technology to train the workforce in India?

Training personnel creates fundamental challenges in bioprocessing. These challenges include limitations in access to the equipment and trainers, as well as global and regional barriers. In search of a solution, experts at Cytiva have turned to virtual reality.

This virtual training platform reduces costs and provides a more flexible training schedule and learning environment to the workforce in India.

Although this example of how we leverage new technology is not exclusive to India, this virtual-reality system can train our customers in India without having them shut down commercial production or maintain equipment used only for training.     

Besides training, another example of how Cytiva uses technology to engage with incoming staff is through the Enboarder onboarding app. The pilot was launched in India to engage new joiners prior to their start date. Bite-size onboarding activities include introducing the new joiner to their manager, introducing them to the company culture and asking them about their concerns and what they like.

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