Pharma ops jobs enter long dark tunnel

Job cuts and layoffs, like recalls, became a story renewed throughout the year. That story involved numbers: 8,550 (AstraZeneca), 8,480 (Pfizer), 5,201 (GlaxoSmithKline), 4,800 (Roche), etc., etc. The 2010 tally tops 50,000.

Those figures include more than just manufacturing and operations positions, of course. Sales and marketing likely accounts for the biggest hit; R&D was hardly exempt.

Among the big stories in 2011 will be the operations and QC consequences of these force reductions. An equally important big story--but one that will get little or no coverage--is the disposition of those let go.

Pharma operations will show signs of suffering from this evaporation of experience, just as the telecom industry did in the 1990s following big force reductions. Those who departed, it turns out, did more than what was contained in their job descriptions. And they knew a lot more about their job functions than did management.

The warning letters of 2011 are likely to more often cite operator inexperience and call for companies to provide training than those of 2010 and before. Therein will lay opportunity, especially for those in mid- to late-career: contract work, training and perhaps consulting.

The telecom industry example serves here, too: Many phone company managers, foremen and linemen laughed through their early retirements as they tallied pay from contract jobs. They had to be sure they wouldn't exceed income levels that got them into tax or government-benefit trouble.

Another option for those with experience who have been let go from pharma manufacturing operations is to peddle their expertise in non-pharma industries, targeting jobs of similar function to those they held. These professionals have a good case to make, given that pharma manufacturing is a regulated and increasingly automated industry.

Be thankful for companies that provide a good exit package and offer some assistance in your career continuation. Be very thankful you didn't go into sales.

Special Report: The Top 10 Layoffs of 2010