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by the sentiments expressed in the recent PwC report.
“As somebody who has been among the workers displaced from the industry because we were told we were unnecessary, to now hear people say ‘We can’t find enough people for this new R&D environment,’ it’s unsettling,” Richards says. “While many people will acknowledge there are a lot of people who have been disengaged from the industry, there aren’t a lot of mechanisms to re-engage these people.”
While companies vary in their policies—Richards says Exelixis was generous in its severance and outplacement services—there’s no doubt in my mind the industry could be doing much more to help its workforce gain the necessary skills of today and tomorrow.
I also have much suspicion about how much of a talent shortage really exists, or whether the companies are exaggerating their plight.
Another Xconomy reader I invited to stop by my office, Marie Beltran, was laid off last September from Seattle-based Dendreon (NASDAQ: DNDN) where she had a senior position in quality control for in vitro biology and biochemistry. She’s 48, and has a lot of experience, has taken some excellent courses from Shoreline (WA) Community College and the University of Washington. She has experience that’s usually in demand. But she knows quite a few people from Dendreon who were laid off more than 18 months ago, and still haven’t found biotech jobs in the local market. In December, she joined them in the ranks of the unemployed.
Beltran says she’s optimistic she’ll find something, but she has noticed that the few relevant openings she can find in the Seattle area tend to be for short-term contract gigs, not full-time jobs.
Part of the problem, Beltran says, is that many biotech companies are going so fast, so “pedal to the metal” on day-to-day tasks, that there’s just not much priority placed on long-term investments like workforce training and development. “I’d love, in a perfect world, to have time and funds available to readily grow individuals,” Beltran says. “To have people ask, ‘where do you see yourself five years from now’ and then allow people the time and resources to obtain those skills.”
I realize we don’t live in a perfect world. But if there’s a “skills mismatch” in the biotech and pharmaceutical industry, the industry has no one to blame but itself. Despite all their troubles, many pharma companies, and top biotechs, are sitting on billions of dollars in cash that’s just collecting interest. If the industry is serious about addressing a workforce problem, then it should start investing more in its own people, and maybe a little less in the next shareholder dividend.
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