September 15, 2016 (Vol. 36, No. 16)
Eric S. S. Langer President and Managing Partner BioPlan Associates
Process Development Jobs Still the Most Difficult to Fill
Downstream purification continues to pressure the biopharmaceutical manufacturing industry from a capacity standpoint, with recent increases in upstream yield and titers overcoming the relatively slow advances in downstream purification. The industry has typically looked to better, more innovative technologies to fix downstream purification’s challenges; but now, problems finding the right staff are also becoming a significant element. That’s according to results from BioPlan Associates’ latest annual industry study, the 13th Annual Report and Survey of Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing Capacity and Production.
Identifying Job Positions
We asked 222 qualified industry executives to identify the job positions at their facility they are currently finding difficult to fill. Once again, process development jobs topped the list, led by upstream process development staff (36.4%), and followed by downstream process development staff (35.1%) (Figure 1).
Also the top five jobs most challenging to hire for included process engineers (29.9%), downstream operations staff (22.1%), and upstream operations staff (22.1%).
The more revealing finding is how these challenges have trended in terms of upstream versus downstream staff. Indeed, an analysis of the past few years of data reveals that challenges in hiring upstream process development staff have actually subsided, whereas they are gradually rising for downstream process development staff.
A similar pattern emerges when examining operations staffing difficulties. Challenges in hiring upstream operations staff abated from 2012. By contrast, in recent years, more respondents have noted difficulties in hiring downstream operations staff, rising to 22.1% this year.
These results suggest that while equipment problems are a predominant reason for continued downstream purification issues, inadequate staffing is a substantial, contributing factor.
Bigger Budgets, More Training
The growing problems hiring operations staff are also seen in the greater budget allocations for those staff. Potentially as a result of a scarcity of supply of the requisite expertise, biomanufacturers are hiking their operations staffing budgets by a significant degree.
Indeed, this year more than one in three respondents to our survey said they would be upping their operations staff hiring budgets by more than 10%. The average 6.3% hike for all biomanufacturers represents the second-largest area of budget increases of all analyzed and the highest budget increase in this area so far this decade.
Our latest study indicates that hiring difficulties aren’t going away. Process development staffing remains the leading struggle, even if it is easing up slightly for upstream process development. In recent years, we are seeing that it’s becoming gradually more difficult to hire quality downstream process development and operations staff. Only time will tell if more money and more training will be enough to rein in these difficulties.