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Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Biospace Report 2013 Report On Jobs

Without proper bean counting techniques, it is hard to say how many people have come, gone or stayed in the work force that makes up biotechnology/pharmaceutical science. You could first set up a list of career paths. Let's say one person has an associate degree in biotechnology. The next person has a BS in Chemical Engineering. The next person has an MD. The next a PhD in Pharmacology. Make a second list of possible job opportunities and match up the degrees with the jobs. Then make yet another list of jobs and match up the education backgrounds and job experience with the next leg of the journey of a career.

What is the life span of a particular career and how many should be expected to support the companies that currently exist? Should we expect more or less companies in the future?

According to Biospace, the future is looking brighter. "Biopharma recovery continues with unemployment rates falling over three percent," said Chanille Hewett, Biospace Product Manager. Our salary data shows further recovery indicators; since bottoming out in 2010 biotechnology salaries hit a three year high in 2012. Not only are our professionals getting back to work, but their pay is trending upward as well."

How did they ignore the large number of layoffs during the time period of 2010 to 2012? Does their methodology really tell the true story. It would seem that there is a built in bias. A Biospace Product Manager may be under pressure to tell the "best story". Journalism is not what it used to be. According to Xconomy, Biotech was back in 2010, but has been on the decline every since. Over 150,000 jobs were shed from 2009 to 2012. How is the Biospace "recovery" treating the lost 150,000 jobs?

Using Seattle as an example, less jobs are posted on the WBBA website than ever before. Knowing people in the area, I can identify some of the jobs as being mere place holders on the WBBA website to give off the appearance of a viable company. In reality the jobs have sat on the website for months with no effort being made in-house to fill those positions. Out of 17 companies listing jobs on WBBA, nine companies only have 1 job vacancy, four companies have 2 jobs, leaving the remaining four companies offering 3, 7, 10, and 28 jobs. Take out Seattle Genetics and you've got 37 jobs from 16 companies.

Why bring up a non-factor like Seattle? The area was never a viable hub for generating large numbers of jobs. Old job creator like Institute for Systems Biology no longer have life science opportunities. I have seen people searching for "Institute for Systems Biology layoffs" on my blog. None have been reported. Hmm. If you look at jobs on the Amgen site you will see many that have been listed for years. Lazy human resource practices and embarrassment over the lack of forward progress have added to the confusing calculations done by Biospace. If there is a problem reporting the proper numbers, then larger hubs such as San Diego, San Francisco, North Carolina and Boston, might be adding larger amounts of bad data to the calculations being made by Biospace.

Using the scientific method, we can look into the realities of bio/pharma.

My observation is that there have been far too many layoffs to conclude that in 2013 everything is on the  mend. The measurement of recovery hasn't been defined. Imagine the recovery from the past few years being the inverse of the layoffs. Pfizer hires 19,500 people!

So I have to ask a question. I start with several questions. "What are the jobs that were lost?" "What are the new jobs?" In general, "Has the biopharma workforce changed what is does?"

Using the Cargo Cult analogy, "Have the Cargo Cult Airports figured out how to conduct themselves in a manner that puts more wealth into their system?"

By looking at the new jobs, we have a better way of judging the future of the business. Have we redefined how a person is to stand in the watch towers or have we figured out what the Westerners were actually doing in their watch towers?

My hypothesis is that things have not gotten better, in general, that the workforce has lost valuable experience. The Dilbert-esque bosses have kept their positions while the people, whose minds made up the knowledge base of what really needs to get done, have lost their jobs. As the money fades away, careerism overshadows what is truly needed at the company. Those with the power to choose will always choose to keep themselves around and get rid of those below. Proving ones value does not get done via the scientific method.

Check what people are saying online. Biofind Rumor Mill:

We had two openings for entry level (bs +1/2 years experience) molecular bio techs. We received over 100 resumes, over 30 of which were from PhD holders. We hired people with bs + 2-5 years experience. The overdegreed candidates didn't even get to the interview stage.
In the last 5 years, jobs in science/pharma/biotech have declined resulting in a surplus of unemployed PhD and MS scientists. We need to have some organization that will help MS/PhD scientists get jobs in the fields outside of their expertise with some training while working. A person who has done MS/PhD can certainly learn other skills in 1-2 years and succeed in other fields.

If you continue reading the thread from Biofind you will see a trend. Over-education is detrimental to your hiring prospects. Training is not provided quite often. The industry where you hope to have a career is not booming. Some will win, most will not, and the winners aren't training the losers how to succeed.

What is the experiment? Well... I started this blog in 2006. That has been the experiment. Was I able to find a problem other than my own career falling by the wayside? The industry has proven, in spite of reports of its constant rising from the ashes (without any reports of a fire) that it is a poor investment. The money has dried up. Bad science leads to bad investments. The intolerance to the loss of capital is a good thing. New initiatives, such as the Reproducibility Initiative and the latest initiative from the journal Nature to improve the reproducibility of their published papers, are starting to pop up. The Amgen study boldly went where few professional scientists would dare go, and they were published. Retraction Watch now shines a light on things we know... that aren't so. People are starting to do what they have been reluctant to do in the past, admit our faults. Ben Goldacre has published Bad Pharma that has opened the eyes of regulators to the plight of anyone who wants to get the to the truth of a big pharma clinical trial. Aubrey Blumsons war against Procter and Gamble opened the door for questioning big pharma trials and their lack of transparency. Cargo Cult companies like SIRNA and Sirtris have closed up shop, costing their big pharma purchasers huge write-offs. Beyond biotech/pharma, medical practices have also been scrutinized in books like Checklist Manifesto and Unaccountable. 

In general, we are not on the mend as often reported by Biospace and other people who benefit from maintaining the status quo. We are in the process of changing, getting rid of bad science, and a whole lot of bad scientists. The old ways were unsustainable. We are learning to be more honest and hold others to the same standards. The experiment continues.


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