Are young people excited by a career in industry?


Breakthroughs, tech and innovation are abundant, but are young people excited by a career in industry?

Ask children what they want to do with the rest of their lives and you’ll get a range of responses, such as “train driver”, “YouTuber” or “Ronaldo”. How often will you get the answer, “I want to work in the pharmaceutical industry”? But it’s a career with a clear career framework and opportunities to use myriad skills in numerous roles. It also provides the support to succeed and the chance to make a real difference to patients’ lives. What’s not to love? Are young people seeing the potential in taking the pharma path, or is it a struggle to attract the best young talent to the industry? We ask our experts.

Joanna Paish

Recruitment Manager at Apodi Ltd

An acknowledged skills shortage in young people with science qualifications led to a new Sector Deal for Life Sciences being announced by the Government late last year. The perception of top pharmaceutical companies is improving year-on-year according to the 2017 Reputation Institute Report, however, opportunities in pharma are not always well known by young people, despite the industry offering competitive packages and excellent career prospects.

At Apodi we think it is great to hear about new initiatives within the industry that provide graduate programmes, apprenticeships, internships and other training initiatives that will facilitate opportunities to enter the industry in the future.

Caroline Wilcher

Director of Recruitment and Talent Aquisition at Ashfield, part of UDG Healthcare plc

When I graduated 25 years ago, I knew I wanted to be a pharma rep.

At the time, my tutors were mystified as to why I would want a career in sales and tried to push me into R&D, which at that time was a very viable option where many companies were investing heavily. Nevertheless, I was determined to follow my own path.

Now, R&D roles are few and far between, but sales roles still have a negative stigma within the academic world. Sadly, there is still very little awareness of the incredible career paths that this route can offer.

In my opinion, the industry needs to work harder to communicate effectively with universities and spot future talent – we need to build relationships and support their requirements.

We spend a lot of time liaising with employability managers and graduates across the country and have our very own graduate ambassadors attending workshops and seminars.

Combining a passion for science with great influencing skills and business acumen isn’t easy – but for the right kind of person, I couldn’t recommend a career in pharma sales more.

Michele White

HR Director UK & Ireland, UCB

Our applicant rates demonstrate that a career in pharma is an attractive prospect to those currently in education. Many individuals, however, do not appear to have a ‘target’ pharma company in mind when starting their search, or an awareness of the breadth of organisations operating in this sector.

Some graduates and postgraduates joining UCB from university or an academic role said they were attracted by the opportunity to impact drug-discovery and make a difference to the lives of patients.  In the pharmaceutical industry, they interact with colleagues responsible for discovering, developing, testing and launching drugs.

We would like to continue attracting high-quality candidates and make them aware of the wide variety of long-term career opportunities available to them. In particular, we need to attract medics, geneticists and those with skills and qualifications in chemistry, translational biology, early pipeline development and bioinformatics.

Andrew Croydon

Head of Education and Academic Liaison, ABPI

The ABPI is always encouraging more young people to consider a career in an industry, pushing back the boundaries of science. We provide interactive materials aimed at young people and their career advisors, take part in outreach programmes and support specific careers events such as university Bioscience Careers Days.

Our industry has a lot to offer, but we know there are major skills gaps that need to be addressed if the UK is to be ready to research and develop the medicines and vaccines of the future.

In our most recent skills report, we identified gaps in areas such as maths, bioinformatics, statistics, data and informatics, computational skills and translational medicine or clinical pharmacology. All these areas need addressing for the industry to thrive.

We know that young people are showing an interest, however, and are actively pursuing a career in the pharmaceutical industry. University careers advisors tell us that young people are expressing an interest in regulatory affairs, promotion of medicines and, overwhelmingly, R&D roles.

When we surveyed our member companies, they told us that apprenticeships are increasing in popularity as a career entry route, but these aren’t the only solution to bridging the skills gap.

If our industry is to recruit the talented individuals we need, we must get even better at demonstrating the globally competitive benefits of working in the industry, the diversity of roles and continually evolving career paths, while explaining how potential employees will be at the cutting-edge of science, helping create the next generation of medicines for patients around the world.

Getting into pharma

Words by Rachel Cresswell, Sales and Marketing Manager, PharmaJobs

Pharmaceutical companies in the UK currently employ around 73,000 people and this number continues to grow. But with fierce competition among graduates, where’s the best place to start?

1. Why do you want to join the industry?

Why do you want to join pharma, and what is it that you enjoy the most? Graduate roles cover a range of functions, from medical sales to marketing and human resources, so be sure of exactly what you want before telling the company why you can do it.

2. Do you have a related degree?

For many roles, you’ll need a Life Sciences degree, with some requiring specific qualifications such as a PhD. For commercial roles, employers may accept a degree from a different discipline, as long as you can demonstrate the required skills and characteristics.

3. What work experience do you have?

Having relevant work experience is a great way to stand out from other candidates. Some of the largest pharma companies offer internship schemes, ranging from three months to a year. Alternatively, you can try applying to local hospitals or universities to find out about opportunities.

Discover available graduate roles at