As you know, this has not been a good decade for pharma employment. The combination of patent expirations, thinning pipelines and fewer new drug approvals has prompted every drugmaker - big and small - to toss tens of thousands of people overboard. But so many jobs have been eliminated that the layoff pace is finally slowing, at least according to numbers compiled by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, the outplacement consultants that track monthly changes in each industry.
So far this year, pharma layoffs have totaled 19,076, and this includes the 13,000 job cuts planned by Merck, which is actually eyeing many foreign positions, therefore, swelling the latest tally. Last year, pharma eliminated 53,636 jobs, down from 61,109 in 2009, when annual layoffs peaked. In fact, the 2009 bloodletting was outsized compared with every other year - the next highest annual layoff tally occurred in 2008, when 43,014 industry cuts were announced. Between 2003 and 2007, the number of jobs that were eliminated ranged from about 15,000 to 31,000 annually, according to the firm.
Of course, these numbers are not perfect. As stated, the firm includes overseas jobs to be eliminated by US employers because they are believed to be "economically significant." And some companies cut jobs in dribs and drabs, thereby avoiding having to file notices of large layoffs with government agencies. This means some layoffs do not appear on radar screens. And at the same time, hiring continues as investment is made in certain research, such as oncology. In other words, the tallies are not the last word on job losses, but this does provide a sobering window into the larger phenomenon.
Does this mean that employment may soon stabilize? This depends, in part, on experience and expertise. Sales and marketing jobs are hard to come by. Chemists are not in vogue. Regulatory and compliance specialists are still eagerly sought. This is speaking in general terms, of course, and there are other categories that can be cited as holding potential or, conversely, worsening. And there are always exceptions to trends, as well.
The real issue is the extent to which industry investment is being made in the US as compared with overseas. As more facilities for research and production are purchased, opened and expanded elsewhere - notably, Asia - the demand for pharma people in the US is likely to remain under pressure. So even if the bloodletting has slowed, US employment prospects remain unclear. As they say on Wall Street, hold your seat.