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All things Pharma

New dogs, old tricks

The UK is plagued by a skills gap that is driving a war for talent. Is training and development – for so long the pride of the highly-regulated pharmaceutical industry – beginning to let medical sales professionals down? The sales environment is changing. But is medical sales skills training changing with it? Chris Ross blogs.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) says a skills gap in the UK is proving the catalyst for a ‘war for talent’ among employers. An apparently high number of Britain’s unemployed (itself a high number) do not have the appropriate skills for employment.

This says two things – and neither of them is particularly palatable.

Primarily it suggests that our education system is failing to prepare graduates for the professional environment.

The “School Was Much Harder In My Day” brigade will most likely fall in with this way of thinking. We have not yet reached the day when customers are given a Sociology Degree whenever they purchase 2 gallons of fuel at every participating Esso petrol station – but if the right wing press (and my mum) are to be believed, we are not far from it.

Like any self-respecting humanities graduate, I’ll sit on the fence. But I can’t help noting that many of the new graduates that I’ve brought into my editorial teams over the years have been ill-equipped to do much more than the basics.

Secondly, it at best makes a very poor statement about the quality of training and development in British businesses, and at worst suggests that companies’ recruitment strategies in the recent past have not been of a sufficiently high standard.

Why? Today’s unemployment market is inflated by a large number of people who have suffered the misfortune of redundancy in a cold economic climate. While a good percentage of these will be the victims of a ‘last in, first out’ policy of redundancy, many others will have acquired years of business experience in a professional environment. They will have been through countless rounds of training and skills-based appraisals – and will be worldly-wise to the needs of prospective employers. They should have the upper hand. So why is it that many of these more experienced workers seeking redeployment can’t get back in? Did vocational training and development let them down? Or should they have never ‘got in’ in the first place?

The pharmaceutical industry prides itself on the quality of its training and development – not least in the competitive world of pharmaceutical sales, where a poorly-trained representative can mean the difference between a sale and a lawsuit. But the selling environment is changing. As the customer changes, so too do customer needs. The old school rep is a dying breed – in its place, the Key Account Manager has emerged.

The question is – has training and development in pharma changed to match the needs of the Key Account Manager?

The allegation across much of pharma is that too many companies are paying lip service to the notion of Key Account Management. All that has changed, it’s said, is the job title and business card. But today’s Key Account Managers are being trained using the textbooks of yesterday’s sales reps – and, in a changing marketplace, the outcomes are being reflected on the bottom line.

So the CIPD’s assessment of a UK skills gap may indeed chime with trends in the pharmaceutical industry. Most worrying of all, this skills gap is not found within the unemployed desperate to find a way in, it’s within the existing salesforce that the industry has chosen to send out.

What is your employer doing to ensure you have the right skills for the KAM environment. Are they teaching new dogs old tricks?

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