THE Asia-Pacific region is gearing up for a global gravity shift to win the largest share of the global pharmaceutical industry. This is apparent with the influx of international pharmaceutical companies establishing major manufacturing operations in the region in recent years.

As Asian governments continue to offer grants, incentives and infrastructure support, the pharmaceutical industry is expected to further expand in the region.

Singapore's pharmaceutical industry has been one of the fastest growing industries for the past five years, and is also the main driving force for the growth of the country's biomedical science sector.

In 2006, the pharmaceutical industry here achieved a 34.5 per cent growth in manufacturing output, which amounted to $20 billion and the creation of more than 4,000 jobs, according to the National University of Singapore's Department of Pharmacy (www.pharmacy.nus.edu.sg/students/prog_gadmcintro.htm).

Regional battle

Emerging pharmaceutical markets in the Asia-Pacific are attracting multinational companies that seek talent for their local operations.

However, many multinational companies and local players are vying for the same limited talent pool. Therefore, pharmaceutical companies need to look across the Asia-Pacific region to ensure the recruitment of sufficient talent to meet the growth needs of the industry.

There continues to be a great demand for talented people with diverse backgrounds. The top five positions most pharmaceutical companies are looking to fill are:

* Marketing and sales managers

* Medical affairs and regulatory experts

* Business development managers

* HR professionals

* Business controllers/analysts

The current challenge faced by many pharmaceutical companies is to strike a balance between filling key positions with the most competent and qualified candidates and promoting or placing existing staff in positions in which they do not yet have experience.

Tackling this challenge, pharmaceutical companies such as Bayer Schering Pharma Asia Pacific are steering away from human resources as an exclusively operational function.

Instead, a proactive approach is being taken to invest in a harmonised career development framework to bring out the best in talents for great business performance.

In recent years, the company has introduced a systematic talent management programme called Significant Progress in Early Executive Development (Speed). With this system, a number of short- and long-term projects were created for young talent from around the Asia- Pacific region to get exposure by working in the company's regional offices.

This gives them valuable career experience and enables them to build crucial regional networks. This effort is further supported by local and regional talent conferences, which aim to identify talent and actively seek opportunities, such as regional job rotation, for their development.

In addition, innovative human resources tools such as management trainee programmes, individual career development plans and leadership development programmes are also employed by pharmaceutical companies in the regional battle for talent.

Opportunities ahead

With China expected to become one of the top five health-care markets globally by 2010 and India racing to be the new pharmaceutical research and development hub, many see these two countries as up-and-coming hotspots for the industry.

The total sales of pharmaceuticals in China reached an estimated US$19.2 billion ($26.1 billion) in 2005 and in India, the industry is gaining a reputation in the complex field of drug manufacture and technology.

Moving forward, it is apparent that the pharmaceutical industry will face a new set of challenges and opportunities in this increasingly dynamic environment.

The demand for talent will continue to grow. In the search for quality talent, many pharmaceutical companies recognise Singapore as a talent hub that offers a pool of highly skilled, multilingual, capable and mobile talent who can contribute to the growing regional industry.

As the industry grows, more opportunities are opening up for employees to obtain regional and overseas exposure. Complementing this trend, Bayer Schering Pharma has established Learning Centers of Excellence in Australia, China and Singapore to expose staff to the unique features and conditions of each of these regional markets.

In Singapore, regional staff gain exposure to conducting business in a multi-cultural, English-speaking environment in Asia. Australia offers these employees the opportunity to work in a mature pharmaceutical market, where business is conducted in English.

In China, regional talents are exposed to sales skills and the unique market conditions of a vast emerging market.

Talent matters

Many pharmaceutical companies acknowledge that beyond technology, skilled employees who drive business performance are the lifeblood of the company.

In the face of rising competition in the talent market, it has become imperative for companies to go beyond just raising salaries to retain talent. New creative ways must be employed to help talents enjoy work and see a growth path in their career development.

Pharmaceutical companies aim to achieve long-term talent development by putting in place talent management and career development programmes that build capacity, knowledge and networks to enable competent staff members to take up broader and more senior roles in this growing industry.