Emerging Leaders: Nurturing Emerging Talent & the Workforce of the Future
Emerging Leaders has grown from an initiative for interactions among early-career professionals entering ISPE into much more: a training ground, a networking organization, and a new foundation for the future of ISPE and the industry. This article looks at the history of the group, its purpose, current and future initiatives, and a name change that better reflects the path of its members.
After Caroline Rocks, a Process Engineer, joined ISPE’s Ireland Affiliate, she began attending conferences beyond her home base. She found that when she showed an interest or volunteered in one area, she was soon invited to get involved in another. Rocks laughed when she recalled that one of her first roles was simply holding a sign to direct conference goers to the right bus. Three years later, she was on the ISPE International Board of Directors.
“Newcomers to the industry might have an image that ISPE is a closed-door society and you have to be at a later stage of your career to join,” Rocks said. “But from the start, people were welcoming and doors were open to me.”
As a Process Engineer, the scope of what she did and her interactions were limited to engineering. All of a sudden, by volunteering with ISPE, Rocks was interfacing with many different industry organizations. She found herself, early in her career, working with people from the C-suite of another pharmaceutical company, the owner of a consultancy, and even a person who had invented manufacturing equipment. “I didn’t get that in my 9-to-5,” she said. “I got that from my involvement with ISPE.”
Rocks wanted to join an Emerging Leaders (EL) group (then known as Young Professionals or YPs) and, in 2014, was invited to help establish one in Ireland by Robert Landertinger, the Young Professional Europe Regional Leader at the time.
“I was in a meeting and realized there was somebody from Eli Lilly there, somebody from Pfizer—all these different companies—and they wanted to hear what we were doing and to support Young Professionals in Ireland.”
After her participation with the local Emerging Leaders committee, Rocks broadened her involvement to the global stage, becoming Chair of the International Young Professionals Committee from 2017–2018, succeeding Brody Stara, the first Young Professional chair who had an ex officio role on the ISPE International Board of Directors. Following that, she was elected to the ISPE Board and served from 2018–2020. She is currently Senior Program Manager at AbbVie, Inc.
The Emerging Leaders Mandate
Emerging Leaders is a program with local committees in many ISPE Chapters and Affiliates. The first ISPE event was held at the 2007 Annual Meeting by an Emerging Leader committee that had been formed by the Boston Area Chapter. In 2010, “Young Professional” became an official ISPE member type and the community was recognized and given increasing focus across the global Chapters and Affiliates, changing its name to Emerging Leaders in 2021.
Since 2010, the community has actively grown and developed, with over 25 Emerging Leader committees established across North America, Europe, APAC, and South America. In 2018, at the ISPE Europe Annual Meeting in Rome, Emerging Leaders were introduced as education track co-chairs for the first time, enhancing their participation in meetings. Each Emerging Leader committee consists of between 2–20 active volunteers, and there are more than 1,800 members in ISPE International Professional Community (see Figure 1).
“By focusing on networking and building a community, the Emerging Leaders have established themselves at the forefront of Special Interest Groups, Communities of Practice, and conference planning,” said John Clarke, Chair, International Emerging Leader Committee, 2020–2021, and a Process Lead with Pfizer. “This experience and development is instrumental in the career progression of our members and it is key to the continuation and growth the community has seen.”
Emerging Leader offers members early career training and networking opportunities, runs Hackathons (see sidebar), and is integral to ISPE’s efforts to develop the Workforce of the Future.
“ISPE provides a platform for professional development and networking for people in all stages of their career in the pharmaceutical industry,” said Jörg Zimmermann, 2021–22 Chair, ISPE International Board of Directors and Vice President, Vetter Development Service, External Affairs, at Vetter Pharma-Fertigung GmbH & Co. In particular, he noted that participation in Emerging Leader can help members develop leadership, interpersonal skills, confidence, technical understanding, and regulatory knowledge. Emerging Leader participation also assists in setting aspirational goals and illuminating a path to success.
Since 2014, the Chair of the Emerging Leader committee has been an ex officio (non-voting) member of the ISPE International Board of Directors, providing access and input to the workings of the Society to a representative from first the Young Professionals, now the Emerging Leaders. The decision to include the Emerging Leader Chair highlights the Board’s commitment to developing the Workforce of the Future.
“Emerging Leaders are the future of ISPE and the pharma industry,” said Joanne R. Barrick, RPh, Past Chair, ISPE International Board of Directors, and Advisor, Global Validation, Technical Services/Manufacturing Science at Eli Lilly and Company. “Through leadership opportunities in ISPE, networking, conference planning, and guidance document development, we can help prepare them to become tomorrow’s pharma industry leaders. The Emerging Leader community attracts talent to the industry that will help address the anticipated talent gap in the biopharma segment.”
Career Benefits Begin during Student Days
While universities teach technical content, ISPE opportunities like Emerging Leader help with ongoing professional development. “The process begins with student chapters,” Zimmermann said, “in which those new to the industry can connect with experienced professionals and with subject matter experts; they can work on cross-functional projects where they apply what they learn to real-life problems; and they receive mentoring.”
- 1,800 members worldwide
- 10 groups in the US, 1 in Canada, and 1 in Mexico
- 11 groups in Europe, representing 15 countries
- 6 groups in Asia and the South Pacific
This provides a good foundation for students to move to the next level for a head start to their professional career, including site visits and workshops. They have access to a local Chapter or Affiliate and Communities of Practice for answers to an array of questions, to share knowledge, and to network with other pharma industry leaders.
“When I was a student in ISPE, I was a sponge, soaking up all the information that anybody would give me,” said Heather Bennett-Kelley, Chair of the 2021–2022 International Emerging Leader Committee and Project Manager/Engineer with ACCO Engineered Systems. “My involvement as a student member of ISPE was pivotal to being able to find a job.”
Bennett-Kelley knew that to be successful, she needed to connect with people in industry before she graduated, and her efforts paid off. Of the 15 students in her graduating class of chemical engineers, only half found jobs. “We were all applying to companies that were receiving stacks of anonymous resumes, everybody with the same qualifications. I was able to find something because of an ISPE connection who called me and recommended that I apply for a position at their company.”
Bennett-Kelley also conducted informational interviews, including a plant tour where she met workers on the floor to learn what they did. “Having that ISPE connection made this less intimidating than it would have been. Then, the person who was hiring asked one of their colleagues if they knew anyone who could fill a position and my contact mentioned me. The hiring person remembered me from an ISPE student event and contacted me.”
She learned how the different aspects of a pharmaceutical plant function, what equipment is used and how, and how a company interacts with the FDA, contractors, and end users. “Getting involved in Emerging Leaders really helped because experienced professionals showed me how everybody was linked together. Not only that, they showed me the soft skills I would need if I wanted to be a future leader, then coached me on how to build them.”
Networking at Conferences and Local Events
A large part of Bennett-Kelley’s experience interacting with industry experts to fulfill her career aspirations came from attending Emerging Leader events. Networking dinners at conferences allow Emerging Leaders, ISPE Board members, and staff to mingle and share ideas. Local Emerging Leader events—one after-work event was held by her San Francisco Bay Area Chapter at a local brewing company—provide opportunities for knowledge and experience sharing in low-stress environments. She finds it allows someone fresh in their career to approach a senior director, even a C-suite executive from a large company, who has already signaled that they are open to sharing their knowledge and experience.
“At a certain point in your career, there’s a shift from what you know to who you know,” Zimmermann said. He has seen how connecting with other Emerging Leaders and receiving mentoring from seasoned industry professionals has helped Emerging Leaders to advance careers, both in what people know and the positions they are able to get. “International networking across different companies with different focus areas will help them get a better understanding of the industry.”
Involvement can also lead to satisfying volunteer opportunities, like organizing conferences, developing webinars, and writing articles for Pharmaceutical Engineering®.
Rocks credits what she learned from ISPE and Young Professional/Emerging Leader networking events as a big driver for her shift two years ago out of engineering and into project management. “I learned more quickly about how the industry is organized,” she said. “I learned about regulatory affairs, clinical trials, and validation and, as a result, saw that I wanted a job role that interfaced with all of those functions. You don’t know what you don’t know, and ISPE opened my eyes to the kind of opportunity I wanted to move into.”
The same has been true for Clarke, who first became involved with the Young Professionals in 2014, when he and Rocks were part of the team that helped the Ire-land Affiliate establish a new Young Professional committee.
“I had recently begun working with Pfizer in Grange Castle, Dublin, and it was a fantastic way to learn more about the industry and meet peers who were in a similar career situation,” Clarke said. “I progressed through roles in engineering, validation, and operations. All the while, my progression within ISPE evolved alongside. Membership in ISPE supported my career progression through attending technical conferences on cutting-edge topics and building leadership skills through holding roles of increasing responsibility on the committee.”
Benefits To ISPE
“Students don’t graduate out of university programs that specifically teach manufacturing of monoclonal antibodies, or how to submit a biological license application to the FDA,” said Thomas Hartman, ISPE President and CEO. “Instead, they learn these things within their company and from the practical knowledge that ISPE offers, including through engagement with ISPE professionals. This is highlighted within the ISPE Mission Statement.”
Hartman knows that networking and information sharing work both ways, with senior industry professionals also gaining insights from the unique perspectives Emerging Leaders bring to the organization. One example is their different view of the pharmaceutical industry from that of more seasoned professionals who consider it to be one entity consisting of three modalities: traditional small molecules, biologics, and ATMPs and C>.
“For most young individuals coming out of colleges and universities, the only modalities that they’re truly introduced to are the biotechnology centric,” Hartman said. “Emerging Leaders also bring a culture to the Pharma 4.0™ initiative that is embedded in digitization. They’re not afraid of transitioning from a paper-based system to a fully digitized batch record—in fact, they prefer it. Emerging Leaders bring the opportunities to realize acceleration of drug development through licensure employing Pharma 4.0™ concepts.”
Bennett-Kelley agreed. “Emerging Leaders are coming in with fresh energy and want to learn in a way that’s different from someone who’s been at a company for 30 years and may be used to doing things a certain way. Emerging Leaders want to find new ways to do the same thing. They don’t just think outside the box, they live outside the box. They try to break the mold, not because they can but because they don’t know any better.”
Hartman credited Emerging Leaders, who use digital platforms to chat with their colleagues, engage with ISPE, or secure a guidance document, with pushing ISPE to adapt its communication platforms, which is necessary for it to remain relevant long term.
“We have to be able to engage with that demographic and embrace the ways they communicate, learn, and acquire information,” he said. “Most importantly, ISPE needs to be able to adjust our platforms to allow consistency with the way this demographic thinks.”
ISPE’s broad digitization strategy, much of which has been implemented, is to ensure this demographic and, indeed, all those who have moved to more digital-friendly platforms, can interact with the Society digitally—as often as not via their phones—to do everything from search for a guidance document, peruse the website, and research technical topics, to get information about other members.
Fostering the Workforce of the Future
The benefits that accrue to Emerging Leaders and ISPE spread even wider, into the pharmaceutical industry as a whole. One current challenge of the pharmaceutical industry is being able to recruit young, capable talent and then train them. Once they’ve graduated with an engineering degree or a science degree, they need to acquire the knowledge and expertise to function in the highly regulated pharmaceutical industry.
“Involvement in Emerging Leaders provides the technical expertise, project management experience, and soft skills for the next generation of leaders and subject matter experts,” Clarke said. “The culture of collaboration and innovation within ISPE Communities of Practice and Special Interest Groups has demonstrated that solutions to industry challenges can be accelerated. Emerging Leaders can be at the forefront of these activities and develop this way of working for the rest of their careers. The potential for this to benefit the industry as a whole is infinite.”
Zimmermann believes Emerging Leaders are essential to the health of the pharmaceutical industry, bringing the latest in scientific knowledge and methods to their companies. The combination of their innovative ways of thinking with existing company and institutional knowledge creates synergies. He sees vast opportunities for those new to the industry to learn about all areas of pharmaceutical manufacturing, including such things as dosage, quality control, quality assurance, and the regulatory process.
“ISPE has experts in every imaginable topic, from tableting to cleanroom design, from ATMPs to modern analytical testing, from project management to critical utilities,” Zimmermann said. “At the same time, recruiting talent to the pharmaceutical industry is key to future growth of our member companies.”
Over the past three years, the ISPE Foundation has supported grants as part of the Foundation’s broad commitment to building the Workforce of the Future. These grants provide opportunities for students, recent graduates, and Emerging Leaders to attend conferences, training, and Hackathons. By attending the ISPE Annual Meeting & Expo, students and Emerging Leaders gain practical knowledge through a comprehensive education program and can network with peers and senior executives throughout the industry. The program curriculum explores the skills needed for the future, including an understanding of the differences between small and large molecules, biotechnology, and cell and gene therapies. Companies recognize that ISPE has a unique program nurturing the Workforce of the Future. In fact, significant donations are being made to the Workforce of the Future initiative.
“We see this as an opportunity for Emerging Leaders to begin their journey to become subject matter experts in these areas,” Hartman said.
ISPE has a three-month Diversity Internship Program offering graduate and undergraduate students the opportunity to spend their summer making a meaningful impact at a top organization in the pharmaceutical industry. A diverse workforce is one that employs people of different cultural backgrounds, genders, disabilities, religions, ages, and varying levels of professional experience. Hartman noted that placement of individuals within operating companies improves the workforce of the future, “not only from a talent and capabilities perspective, but also from a diversity perspective.”
“This initiative seeks to increase diversity within the pharmaceutical industry and those from underrepresented groups are highly encouraged to apply,” said Bill Mojica, ISPE Director of Development & Foundation Operations. The ISPE Foundation, at the request of ISPE International, provided funding for 40 one-year memberships and an all-access pass to the 2021 ISPE Annual Meeting & Expo in Boston to allow Emerging Leaders in the Boston area to experience the Annual Meeting firsthand.
Future Leaders Days
The Germany/Austria/Switzerland Affiliate, Ireland, and Spain Affiliates co-hosted virtual two-day ISPE Future Leaders Days in October 2021. The conference was international and open for everyone to attend, independent of location and time zone, and offered a three-track program in career development, innovation and technology, and leadership and communication.
Emerging Leaders don’t just think outside the box, they live outside the box.
Future Leaders Days have been the signature event of the D/A/CH Emerging Leaders and have been widely attended by Emerging Leaders and students in the region.
“Future Leaders Days are not only bigger than any of our previous events but also much more versatile,” said Zen-Zen Yen, European Emerging Leaders Chair and International Emerging Leader Co-Chair, and Head of Maintenance Operations at Bayer AG. She said that the Future Leaders Days were organized face-to-face annually; with the pandemic, the event became virtual and included teaming with other Emerging Leader Affiliates’ groups.
“There was something for everyone and participants had a hard time choosing which presentation to attend,” Yen said. Attending Future Leaders Days allows Emerging Leaders and students to learn about what is new and challenging, while also challenging themselves with regard to their career development.
“We in the pharmaceutical industry have a common goal—the health of patients,” said Yen. “We can only get better if we connect, share experiences and knowledge, learn from each other, and think outside the box. We don’t need to find our one solution—we need to find the best solution.”
Bringing Emerging Leaders Together Virtually
Bennett-Kelley has seen that everyone has felt isolated and operating in silos from a technology and expertise standpoint, especially between regions. As Emerging Leader Chair for 2021–2022, she hopes to help bridge those boundaries.
“Regions are not operating in a vacuum,” she said. “The biotech hub in San Francisco is connected philosophically to the East Coast, to Singapore, and to Germany. We’re all working together.”
She intends to leverage technology to connect Chapters and Affiliates more frequently than just at annual meetings. Given the move to virtual meetings, she will find ways to encourage engagement, even when there’s a hybrid in-person/virtual approach. Emerging Leaders will be exploring building new student chapters, new Emerging Leader groups, rebuilding Emerging Leader/student groups that have gone dormant, and linking sister Chapters or Affiliates to facilitate knowledge sharing.
“The increase in digital working in the last two years has definitely enhanced the connection and collaboration across the regions,” said Clarke. “While great success has been experienced opening up online events to Emerging Leaders across APAC and South America, there is more to be done to support Affiliates and Chapters across the regions, establish Emerging Leader committees, and increase ISPE membership and engagement. This is something that will be a goal for the International Emerging Leader Committee over the coming years.”
The pandemic has had some unexpected benefits. More events have been virtual and global—including the most recent Hackathon—and this is a trend that will continue. And it has raised the profile of those who work in the industry.
“The pandemic has meant that now, when folks know you are part of the pharmaceutical industry, they want to engage with you,” Hartman said. “This is an opportunity for ISPE to really focus energy on Emerging Leaders. We’re seeing more younger people in high school become interested in the pharmaceutical industry and that is something that ISPE and the industry need to take advantage of.”
Bennett-Kelley would like to use this momentum to encourage companies to embrace their younger employees. Some companies have programs set up to foster the growth of their young people, including new generations coming out of school that often have different priorities than people who have been in the industry.
“We need to tap into that and breathe that life into our companies and the industry,” she said. “It’s not just about recruiting new talent. It’s about recruiting new ideas and the new ways of doing things that come with them. We need to keep stepping outside the box and harnessing that energy.”
Hackathons: A Place for Interaction
Hackathons are intensive collaborative events that inspire innovative thinking. They are important to the Emerging Leaders community because they function as an opportunity for members who are early in their careers from different Chapters and Affiliates to work together to solve interesting industry problems.
The Emerging Leaders Hackathon began as a 24-hour event; during the pandemic, this became a virtual event that took place over eight weeks. During the Hackathon, teams of Emerging Leaders work together to generate innovative solutions to a challenging real-world problem faced by the pharmaceutical industry. The teams scope the problem, create a project plan, and consider the financial implications of their proposed plan. Hackathon concepts developed by each team are then judged by members of the ISPE International Board of Directors and the Global Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Leadership Forum (GPMLF), exposing ISPE Emerging Leader members to senior leaders from across the industry. The first Hackathon was held in Barcelona in 2017 to coincide with the Europe Annual Conference.
“Our Hackathons were inspired by similar events held in the tech industry,” said John Clarke, 2020–2021 Chair, International Emerging Leader Committee, and a Process Lead at Pfizer. “That first event held in Barcelona in 2017 gathered representatives from across the EU Affiliates and demonstrated the innovation that could be achieved through collaboration on an industry problem.” Hackathons have received great support from ISPE, added Zen-Zen Yen, European Emerging Leaders Chair and International Emerging Leader Co-Chair, and Head of Maintenance Operations at Bayer AG, who worked with Robert Lantinger on organizing the first Hackathon.
After the success of the Barcelona event, Hackathons were organized to coincide with EU Annual meetings in Rome and Dublin and the first North American Hackathon was held at the ISPE Annual Meeting in Las Vegas in 2019. Due to COVID-19, the first fully virtual Hackathon took place in 2020, with more than 50 participants representing 20 Chapters and Affiliates. The idea is so popular that some Affiliates and Chapters, such as the D/A/CH Affiliate, have local Hackathons to keep the momentum going between conferences
The February 2021 Hackathon was virtual and had 51 Student and Recent Graduates divided into six teams. Fourteen ISPE Emerging Leaders and industry professionals acted as coaches for the teams as they worked to solve a problem statement provided by Bayer. The challenge was to transform the operations of a CMO to embrace digitalization, including the migration of existing paper documentation to a digital format, with all work to be done virtually under a tight budget.
“Hackathons allow Emerging Leaders, students, and industry leaders to collaborate in a safe space that allows for outside-the-box thinking,” said LeAnna Pearson, 2018–2020 Chair of the International Young Professionals Committee and Associate Director of Manufacturing Services at PharmEng Technology. “Many of the ideas generated in our Hackathons have been looked at or even introduced by industry.”
Caroline Rocks, 2017–2018 Chair of the International Young Professionals Committee and Senior Program Manager at AbbVie, Inc., has seen the positive impact Hackathons have on the industry by getting employees to expand their thinking beyond their day job and their specific roles, showing them the impact they can have in the industry at an earlier stage of their career. “Compared to classic conference offerings—technical lectures or training sessions— in which you attend a presentation, and maybe ask a question at the end of a 40-minute session, Hackathons offer an interactive and immersive experience over the course of a few days.”
“Face-to-face Hackathons have always been exciting events for Emerging Leader members to get involved in, with an opportunity to see a new city and hang out with peers from across the industry,” said Clarke. “It can be difficult to replicate the opportunity face-to-face events provide for networking and building relationships.”
With that in mind, future Emerging Leader events, including Hackathons, will either be fully virtual, fully face-toface, or follow a hybrid model, depending on the aim of the event and the target audience. “Recent Hackathons have demonstrated the dynamic collaboration we can achieve virtually,” Clarke said. “Whether face to face, virtual, or a hybrid model. the future of Emerging Leader events is bright.”
A New Name to Reflect Growth—In Many Ways
Originally known as Young Professionals, many bristled at the implication that they were inexperienced or had graduated recently. Professionals changing industries or roles in the middle of their careers were reluctant to get involved and the committee saw the need to change the name to better reflect its mission.
LeAnna Pearson, 2018–2020 Chair of the International Young Professional Committee and Associate Director of Manufacturing Services at PharmEng Technology, was a graduate student when the initiative that became Young Professionals was launched. “It was exciting to know that ISPE was moving in a direction that was more inclusive of early-career professionals,” she said.
In 2018, Young Professionals won the Committee of the Year Award, recognized for its significant contribution to advancing ISPE’s mission and goals, use of operational best practices that included partnering with other ISPE groups, and innovation and support of the Society’s strategic plan. But, as Pearson’s career progressed, she watched Young Professionals develop into a larger group of individuals who were no longer just new graduates, but also those who were not yet senior in their field.
Many found the group’s name ambiguous. Did Young Professionals refer to age or to one’s seniority in the industry? There was also a disconnect between the working definitions that people used and the ISPE membership tiers. The confusion made it unattractive and Young Professionals lost engagement among some early-career professionals.
The committee conducted a survey among its global membership to gauge how they defined “Young Professional.” The results confirmed the confusion, as most did not consider it to only refer to those in their first five years in the industry and wanted to expand the definition to include newcomers. Pearson proposed to the ISPE International Board of Directors that the name be changed and decoupled from the membership tier. The Board agreed and challenged the committee to come up with a better name, which it did. Henceforth, it would be known as the International Emerging Leaders Committee.
“We thought what they came up with was appropriate because it reflects the accumulated experience that comes with membership in ISPE and the activities and programs that we use to support them,” said Thomas Hartman, ISPE President and CEO. “They certainly embraced the Emerging Leaders label far more than they did Young Professionals.”
The name change has allowed the Emerging Leader Committee to develop and grow as the needs of the members and industry change.