DIA 2021 Annual Meeting

Skills of the future – and the future of work

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags skills gap

Whether working in the pharmaceutical industry or in academia or government, the skills required to achieve, maintain and grow a career are vastly different today than they were 30 years ago. A session at DIA 2021 will put the spotlight on the skills of the future.

Sheila Mahoney Jewels of LifeSciHub is an independent consultant (IC), advocating for the independent workforce, and helping sponsors engage with them.

She has spent the last two years immersed in the world of HR and Procurement tech in order to transition mature, "Future of Work" technologies from other verticals to life sciences in the form of LifeSciHub. LifeSciHub is an online resource marketplace of SME ICs, the goal being to provide easy, and compliant, access and engagement for the sponsors who need specifically qualified experts for projects. (‘Think Airbnb or Lyft, for SMEs!’)

Ahead of Jewels’ virtual session at DIA (Monday June 28 at 1-2pm EDT​), she outlines three areas about the future of work to think about in the coming years.

Pandemic impact: Work from home or office?

Jewels notes that the global nature of the industry means that many workers were able to easily pivot their way of working when the pandemic hit.

The impact has been far greater on the organization than the worker,"​ she told us. "In life sciences, outside the lab bench anyway, any given team is likely to have distributed members. You could be on a call with two people in your office, four from EU and a couple of people in Asia. Collaboration tools were already in place and familiar, pre-covid. 

“The leap to all remote wasn’t as hard to manage for the worker. It was and is far harder on the organization and management structures. The desire to return to the office is strong in leadership. It gives leadership a feeling of control and productivity, real or imagined.  But it’s going to be very hard to get workers back in the office.  In an industry where talent is scarce, the organization is going to have to adapt to yet another challenge. 

"It remains to be seen how this is going to play out.”  

‘Work smarter, not just harder’

Looking forward, decentralized clinical trials, real world evidence and diversity and inclusion in clinical trials will be top issues moving forward.

People who are able to successfully navigate tricky decisions are also going to be in high demand.

“Right now there’s only risk avoidance,” ​said Jewels. “With the pricing pressures industry is facing, we’re all going to have to work smarter, not just harder.  The #1 skill is for the entire rank and file to embrace risk-benefit decisions all throughout the drug development spectrum. 

"Industry has a long and understandable history of relying on empirical data, however, is increasingly challenged to make decisions based on modelling: pharmacology vs. pharmacometrics is a perfect example, as is 100% source data verification vs. risk based monitoring. 

“Industry is great at making decisions based on risk, which looks like this:  avoid risk at all costs, and everything is risky!! But at present, few in rank and file have the skills to quantify benefit and weigh that against quantified risk. 

“Financial markets learned how to quantify risk, even though it is intangible.  At present, the only people at a drug company who know how to do this are the finance guys, who would never think the risk-benefit equation is something the rank and file would ever need to know about.  I’ll cover this in my DIA presentation - it’s probably the most important thing of the whole session.”

Independent consultants

Independent consultants appear frequently in every functional area of virtually every drug sponsor throughout the drug development workflow chain: and yet little is known about this talent pool.

It’s what led Jewels to carry out research into the independent workforce in the life science industry – something that she believes is the only research of its kind.

As an advocate for independent workers, Jewels says the annual survey is designed to understand how this workforce operates. “Many in-house corporate full time employees, regardless of where in the organization they sit, are genuinely mystified as to why anyone would leave the structure and protection of a corporation in order to work independently. Our research seeks to answer that question among others, and to help innovative businesses evolve to reach into productivity spaces that are perhaps unreachable by traditional structures.”

LifeSciHub’s 2020 report found that 70% of drug sponsor hiring entities described the use of Independent Consultants as critical or strategic.

And yet a lot of the independent workforce may be inaccessible by traditional talent sources primarily relied on by HR. (Highly skilled independent consultants in life sciences R&D find work directly 65% of the time, via 3rd parties such as staffing firms or specialized consulting firms less than 5% and 13%, respectively).

The 2021 survey has now opened for responses and can be found here​.


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