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by Vault Careers | December 02, 2010


Yesterday's World AIDS Day provided a welcome talking point for an industry facing its own maladies. Major pharmaceutical companies, increasingly feeling the squeeze of economic pressures, seized upon the opportunity to celebrate their finer contributions to the fight against the virus. Unfortunately for Big Pharma workers on the ground, the celebration stopped there.

Maintaining a recent trend that has seen pharmaceutical workers laid off by the thousands this year, employees at Pfizer, Novartis, and Express Scripts all got the word that they would soon be out of a job. While Pfizer and Express Scripts fired few employees relative to some of their competitors, the low numbers belie some notable trends that could spell bad news for pharmaceutical jobseekers and jobholders alike.

Pfizer's 186 laid off workers, for example, were employed at a now-defunct distribution center in Tennessee; while just a ripple on the surface, the drug giant's decision to outsource the distribution of its products could be an indicator of more comprehensive changes to come to the industry. Meanwhile, Express Scripts' planned closure of a Pennsylvania facility employing 500 workers comes on the back of a nearly identical mass firing issued in October—this just one year after the firm considered "adding jobs, investing in technology, and expanding" into a new headquarters, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Novartis employees, like those at Swiss rival Roche before them, are facing much larger cuts. Earlier this week, Novartis announced that 1,400 general medicine jobs in the US would be eliminated by January 1, citing a need for "improved efficiency." This follows Roche's decision to cut 4,800 jobs worldwide, bound by a similar need to "restructure."

So, why are so many jobs being shed in Big Pharma? For starters, The Wall Street Journal names tough new regulations, the rise of inexpensive generics as patents expire, and backlash against high prices as key sources of the "myriad problems" the industry faces today. With healthcare regulation taking off and high insurance costs in the crosshairs, these trends show little sign of slowing.

However, there are reasons for prospective jobseekers to take heart. "Unlike many other industries," the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) writes, "the pharmaceutical industry is not highly sensitive to changes in economic conditions...Even during periods of high unemployment." Translation: Despite recent evidence to the contrary, medicine is an essential commodity—demand for human health isn't going anywhere.

BLS also asserts that the demand for highly educated employees, particularly PhD's, should remain high. Those with other advanced degrees in life sciences should continue to find opportunities as analysts, researchers and lab technicians relatively plentiful; if it's cheap generic drugs that are killing Big Pharma sales, it's up to the companies to hire leading minds to come up with new, in-demand products. Those who will have the most difficulty obtaining jobs in the industry are candidates seeking manufacture, sales and distribution positions—the likes of which have borne the brunt of recent layoffs.

- Sam Reynolds


Filed Under: Job Search

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