Merck, Eli Lilly cuts hit those in mid, late career

Restructuring and downsizing at two big pharma companies are putting speed bumps in the careers of hundreds of manufacturing workers. The Merck and Eli Lilly layoffs announced recently are intended to keep the companies in line with previously stated corporate objectives.

Cuts are deep at both drugmakers, and neither provided any indication beyond generalities of how it will keep operations running at the quality levels required by increasingly watchful drug regulators. John Challenger, CEO at outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, says in a phone interview that layoffs are of greatest concern to those who are midway or late in their career--those in their late 40s, 50s and 60s. Their high income level and mastery of skills that are less in demand today than when their careers began conspire to make future placement difficult. Unlike their younger colleagues, they'll have more difficulty adapting to an environment of changing technology.

But those with fungible skills, regardless of career stage, have additional options open to them. "They don't have to stay in pharma manufacturing," he says of those who work in inventory control, purchasing and finance, for example. "They often move to tangential industries and continue to work in their area of expertise."

At Merck, global restructuring follows its late 2009 merger with Schering-Plough. Merck is shrinking its network of manufacturing sites to 77 from the initial 91 as a "realignment" to create a "focused and cost-efficient" worldwide supply chain, according to an announcement. The drug giant plans to phase out operations at eight manufacturing facilities, with the work moving to other locations.

At Eli Lilly, operations head count will drop by 170 this year, mostly in manufacturing and quality-control jobs, with most in Indianapolis. Cuts will come through a combination of layoffs and voluntary departures, according to a local press report. The drugmaker plans to offer voluntary terminations to 950 of about 3,600 U.S. manufacturing employees

- here's the Merck release
- see the Eli Lilly article