We’ve certainly seen a number of changes in Australia with regards manufacturing operations. Some plants have totally closed, others have downsized significantly, some have moved off-shore and others are considering their options.
A range of industries have been affected, including the healthcare manufacturing sector. Today questions are being asked about the future of the local industry and the effects of the changes on the people in our industry.
There are two main messages I’d like to convey in this article:
Firstly, the world has changed, and a lot more change is coming.
Secondly, there are many opportunities within this changing world – opportunities for both employees and employers.
Let’s start with why the world has changed.
There are a couple of major reasons here:
Firstly there’s the Global Financial Crisis – the GFC – which started in 2008. This resulted in the collapse of worldwide financial markets, the failure of several banks and many businesses, an increase in unemployment and a plummeting of consumer confidence. As a result people aren’t spending as much and this is affecting economies worldwide, and particularly in Europe and in the US. Government policy is focusing on austerity (decreasing spending, increasing taxes); and companies are also attempting to decrease their expenses and to find ways to increase their revenues.
This change in thinking has affected business practices worldwide. Many healthcare companies in Australia have headquarters in the US and Europe, so changes in their working practices and thinking are directly affecting us.
Before the GFC there was already a change underway in how Australia was competing in the global economy and particularly in our relationship with our Asian neighbours.
Global companies have been restructuring their operations to focus on high growth markets eg Asia. This has resulted in some manufacturing plants in Australia being closed down and relocated to China, Singapore and Indonesia.
This is certainly something which is on everyone’s mind – “How many more plants will close?” “How many more jobs will go off-shore?”
At the same time there’s recognition that Australia is a significant contributor to high-tech manufacturing. A Taskforce has been set up called Australia in the Asian Century (www.asiancentury.dpmc.gov.au), submissions are being reviewed and a White Paper is expected mid-year. The Terms of Reference for the Taskforce are to “provide a comprehensive review of economic and strategic change in Asia and its implications and opportunities for Australia”.
Medicines Australia’s submission to the Taskforce highlights Australia’s well-established reputation in Asia for manufacturing safe and high quality medicines; our solid history of exporting pharmaceutical goods to Asia (for example, $1.7 billion in exports to 20 Asian countries in 2011); the continuing investment by some companies in manufacturing plants to supply markets in Asia; and that the growth area for Australian manufacturing is in the new field of ‘biomanufacturing’ ie biologics derived from living cells and tissues that require a highly sophisticated process to manufacture in commercial quantities.
This is the area where Australian manufacturing is moving. Lower value commodity manufacturing is being transferred off-shore where there’s cheaper labour. Biomanufacturing may become the growth area if major investment can be attracted. However this will require government incentives like tax breaks – and this is the hot topic of conversation today.
Sure some companies have closed their plants and are moving manufacturing overseas. That's business. Asia is a rapidly growing region and it only makes sense to relocate manufacturing to high growth areas, to be closer to the customer. It’s certainly not all doom and gloom though. We've got great people - intelligent, educated and technically skilled. There are lots of opportunities out there – but these opportunities will require a new skill set.
For people considering career alternatives there are a number of options. Firstly it’s useful to review your current skill set and determine which skills are transferable to other roles. This is called a ‘Transferable Skills Analysis” and starts by examining your past accomplishments and experience and can be facilitated by a recruitment or HR specialist. Here we would sit down and ask: “How did you achieve this? And what skills did you use?”. We would then work with you to determine where else you can use these skills. For example people from a healthcare manufacturing background would have the following skills: scientific and healthcare understanding; knowledge of regulatory requirements; technical writing skills; compliance and audit understanding; materials handling and testing; documentation and SOP experience; quality inspection; complaints management; and database and IT systems experience.
Through involvement with process improvement initiatives there will also be experience gained with: reducing waste and rework; reducing changeover times; improving cycle times; improving process efficiency; improving product reliability; and improving performance. All of the skills used during these initiatives can be transferred to other areas of the business.
There’s also non-technical transferable expertise such as budget responsibility; people management; the ability to multi-task, prioritise and work within strict deadlines; time management skills; attention to detail and accuracy; and analytical thinking.
Since the GFC there’s also been solid growth in both employers and candidates seeking contracting roles. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, in turbulent times companies need flexibility. They need the ability to upscale and downscale depending on current conditions. They recognise that contractors can come in and deliver to business objectives immediately; and are willing to pay a premium.
At the same time contractors are seeking out flexible opportunities. There’s increasing recognition that contract roles provide great experience through working on diverse projects and hence contributing to their transferable skill set. Following a redundancy or as a career/lifestyle choice contracting is proving to be an attractive option for many candidates.
One of the biggest changes since the beginning of the GFC is that companies are employing candidates with a broad range of skills in preference to those with a narrower skill set. Today, resources are being stretched and companies need their available talent to be multi-tasking, flexible, agile thinkers who can draw on a range of expertise to tackle complex issues. In turn, employees need to be constantly up-skilling themselves.
The two main areas where skill sets can be added to involve technical understanding and business understanding.
When hiring, employers need their staff to ‘hit-the-ground-running’. They expect technical competence from Day 1. There are a range of formal and informal ways of enhancing technical understanding including: refreshing current skills; obtaining further tertiary qualifications (eg biotechnology); attending courses run by ARCS, AusBiotech, ASMI, CAPSIG, MTAA, and attending relevant conferences and seminars.
In addition to being technically competent employers need their staff to understand what’s happening in today’s economy. Everyone needs to understand top line (sales) and bottom line (profitability) concepts and appreciate their contribution to both, either individually or as part of a cross-functional, commercially-focused team.
To enhance business expertise the following activities can be undertaken: reading business magazines and newspapers eg Harvard Business Review, Financial Review; reading business books – general business, finance, marketing, sales techniques; watching business programmes – Business Sunday, Foxtel business channels, interviews with business leaders; networking across the company – Finance, Human Resources, Marketing, Sales; and undertaking formal studies such as a Marketing certificate or MBA.
The number one business competency required in today’s environment is Emotional Intelligence (EI). People with EI skills are more effective at working together and through this are more effective at identifying opportunities in today’s volatile business environment. We are seeing many more clients specifically asking for this competency; and candidates with these skills commanding attractive salaries.
Popularised by Daniel Goleman EI centers around understanding yourself, your goals, intentions, responses, and behaviour; and understanding others, and their feelings.
A group of 5 skills enable people to maximize their performance
• Social skill
Where self-awareness, self-regulation and motivation – determine how people manage themselves; and empathy and social skills – determine how relationships are handled.
For candidates going for interviews we suggest reviewing the questions below.
For employers these questions will allow you to delve into the candidate’s experience and to determine how effective they will be in today’s market. Companies need employees who can effectively work with others; who can cope with a constantly changing commercial environment and who can identify opportunities and deliver outstanding results.
Candidates with well-developed self-awareness know their strengths and their limitations and are open to feedback and to continuous learning. As such they are effective players in today’s economy because they embrace change. Interview questions could therefore include:
Tell me about yourself.
How would your colleagues describe you?…tell me more
Tell me about your strengths and your limitations.
Tell me about a time when you received feedback.
Tell me about a time when you had a great success.
Tell me about a time when you made a big mistake.
Businesses today need to deliver results, more so than ever before. The result is that workplace environments have become more pressured and more stressed. Candidates with fine-tuned self-regulatory skills can cope with multiple demands and increased pressure. The following questions can be used to assess their competency:
How do you handle stressful situations?
How do you relax?
Tell me about a time when you got angry. What did you do?
When do you feel most under pressure?
How do you handle multiple demands?
How do you achieve work/life balance?
The core of business success is having a motivated workforce. The interview presents an excellent opportunity to assess motivation, achievement and drive with questions like:
What motivates you?
Why do you work?
How do you measure success? What results do you achieve?
Tell me about some challenging goals you have set?
How do you overcome obstacles and setbacks?
What do you do to stay up-to-date with industry developments?
To work together effectively there needs to be an understanding of others’ perspectives. Empathy is therefore a necessary skill in environments where collaboration brings commercial success; and can be assessed with the following questions:
Describe a time when you had to deliver difficult news.
What do you do when someone comes to you with a problem?
Describe the people in your team and discuss what they need and how they feel.
Describe a time when understanding someone else’s perspective helped you understand them better.
What do you do to understand someone else’s behaviour?
How do you understand what your team members are feeling?
5. Social Skill
Working together towards common goals requires a range of social skills like communication, rapport building, persuasion and conflict resolution. Again the interview is the time to assess the strength of a candidate’s competency prior to the hiring decision, with questions like:
Tell me about a time when you needed to influence someone.
Describe a difficult issue you had to deal with.
Tell me about what you would do to gain respect as a new manager.
Tell me how you build networks within your company.
How do you develop rapport with people?
How do you build relationships with people?
Successful people have highly developed emotional intelligence.
They have self –awareness – they know their strengths, weaknesses, drives, values and impact on others.
They have self-regulation – they control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods.
They have motivation – they relish achievement for its own sake.
They have empathy – they understand other people’s emotional make-up.
They have social skill – they build rapport with others to move them in desired directions.
And companies with emotionally intelligent employees will continue to grow during turbulent economic times.
Even in today’s economy there are lots of jobs available. Moving from one sector or industry to another won’t always be that easy, but it’s also not impossible.
With enhanced technical and business skills there are many opportunities for candidates to explore and for employers to secure great talent.
Transferable skills from healthcare manufacturing are being sought in the following areas:
Medical Affairs/Medical Science Liaison
And there’s a range of industries to choose from including:
Resources - Oil/Gas/Mining
These industries value the transferable skills and knowledge which candidates bring. Healthcare is highly regulated with quality-driven manufacturing, global supply chain processes; significant investment in high-tech R&D and company cultures which value technical expertise, knowledge-sharing and collaboration and commercially-focused outcomes.
The world has changed and it will continue to change. Many opportunities will come from these changes – opportunities for both employees to obtain new roles and for employers to secure great talent, talent with the transferable skills to contribute to overall business objectives.