July / August 2020

Message from the Chair: The Next Normal - Workforce of the Future

Frances M. Zipp
Message from the Chair: The Next Normal - Workforce of the Future

Since January, nothing has been normal. Nothing, especially when we try to compare it to anything we have experienced in the recent past. So how do we begin to move forward as the efforts of both the public and private sectors combine to offset the advance of the impact to businesses due to COVID-19?

As time passes, it becomes more evident to me that looking back and trying to faithfully recreate the past in hopes of finding a way forward as we emerge from the current pandemic is a recipe for failure. No, we have to prepare for the Next Normal and nimbly adapt to it as it takes shape—whatever shape that may be.

Defining the Next Normal

First things first: What will the next normal be? What will it look like? How will we conduct business? How will we work together? And from where? As professionals, how will we in the life sciences move our industry forward into the future? And what will the workforce that takes us there look like?

These are important questions. And there are many more. A vast majority of them have open-ended answers. I consider a variety of possible solutions on a daily basis, especially because these questions seem to change on a daily basis as well.

What seemed a distant goal of achieving is here, right now, and for many it seems as if we are making it up as we go. And the reality of it is that, oftentimes, we are. The idea that we could slowly and steadily begin to incorporate the principles of the “workforce of the future” into our long-term business plans has been completely disrupted in the course of a few short months. The faster and smarter we adapt and evolve, the more successful we will be.

Not coincidentally, a McKinsey & Company article published in April titled “Pharma Operations: Creating the Workforce of the Future1 addresses this key topic of preparing the new, next workforce and how “reskilling employees to address talent gaps can help a company retain the bulk of its operations workers and empower them to take advantage of a new world.” In 2019 ISPE collaborated with McKinsey on the generation of the data and the study to support this article, long before COVID-19 was a household phrase.

The article notes note the unprecedented scale of technological disruption and how pharma is facing its own unique disruptions, such as new business models like direct-to-customer sales and personalized medicine, and new product modalities like cell and gene therapies. Their belief is that these disruptors “have created skills mismatches in more than 80% of pharma manufacturing companies.”

Mission Critical

This gap, as noted by McKinsey, underscores the mission and importance of the ISPE. After 40 years, we are still fully committed to “the advancement of the educational and technical efficiency of its members through forums for the exchange of ideas and practical experience”.2 At no time during our organization’s history has it been more important for our community of professionals to support each other through interaction (in new and novel ways) and to share our knowledge, expertise, and experiences.

I encourage everyone throughout every organization and at every level to contribute to and utilize the resources that ISPE offers. We’ll be doing our part. Although we are unable to physically gather as professionals, ISPE is offering a number of online events, including the 2020 ISPE Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing Virtual Conference “Vision for Biomanufacturing: Today’s Challenges and Tomorrow’s Therapies” held on 1–2 June—watch for information about other virtual opportunities, including online training courses and more ISPE webinars. These are just a few examples of the various resources available to help prepare our members and member organizations as we create the workforce of the future.

I could easily close this column by inserting an inspirational quote about the future, but that would be too easy and a cliché. Instead, I’d like to leave you with a recollection of a former colleague of mine who was always the most positive during the worst of circumstances. He viewed the predicament and uncertainty of the moment as an opportunity to evaluate his true mission and that of his organization, how well it was achieving that mission, and how to evolve in creating a more meaningful, relevant organization when all was said and done.

I see that same vision in our mission. In continuing to advance ISPE, I encourage you to join me in achieving the “next normal” for ISPE as we grow and ultimately thrive in 2020 and the years ahead.