Drug safety professionals seemingly happy despite slow starting pay, but for how long?

Despite the low junior salaries given to drug safety employees, satisfaction in the discipline is one of the highest in the sector. But as the STEM skills shortage continues to affect life sciences, how long can pharmacovigilance keep these skilled workers on comparatively lower pay?

In our last article we were able to report slow growth in some areas of the pharmaceutical sector. One area in which pay has remained almost completely static, however, is drug safety, particularly across junior roles.

Our latest survey of the pharmaceutical sector has revealed that a drug safety associate, for example, will remain earning £20-30K until they have gained around 10 years’ experience, lagging behind employees in every other discipline in the sector, who are earning at least £40K by the time they have reached five years in a role.

Despite this, however, the level of job satisfaction within pharmacovigilance is significantly higher than other pharmaceutical areas according to the survey. When asked about the correlation between salary and experience, 62% of employees responded that they believed their pay was fair. On top of this only 27% said they were looking for a new role in the next year.

“…the level of job satisfaction within pharmacovigilance is significantly higher than other pharmaceutical areas”

In comparison, employees who work in Medical Affairs for example, can earn £50-60K with less than 10 years’ experience. However, only 42% of those questioned were satisfied with their salary, and as a result almost 40% stated that they will be actively looking for a new role in the next year.

So why are drug safety employees satisfied with lower pay?

Without wishing to generalise about everyone in the discipline, I have always been given the impression that the real satisfaction derived from pharmacovigilance comes from the day-to-day elements of the job, and the general working environment, rather than base salary. My own conversations with those within pharmacovigilance suggest they have a real passion for the role, and simply doing something they enjoy is more important than being well-paid, at least initially.

It is certainly worth noting that, whilst remuneration does remain low up until the 10 year point, it then immediately jumps to £40-50K, as companies attempt to keep hold of their most experienced employees. It seems that, in drug safety more than any other discipline, pay structures are compatible with long term careers rather than immediate rewards.

This is a point which is supported by the benefits structure of the discipline. Although benefits in the last year have risen significantly across all of Life Sciences, those awarded to pharmacovigilance employees have specifically been long term ones such as group personal pension schemes and life assurance. It appears that creating an environment where loyalty is rewarded has inspired junior employees to be satisfied with a lower salary in the short term.

The emphasis on reward for experience, however, is a trend only seen in UK pharmacovigilance. When we look at our European results, the survey shows us almost the opposite movement. Whilst European drug safety employees start on a higher salary, the increase is far less sharp than it is in the UK. Those working in pharmacovigilance in Europe can earn up to £66K before they have amassed 10 years’ experience. However, once they have reached this point there is little in the way of further increase.

“Back in the UK, the tactic of rewarding loyalty appears to be working in the current market.”

The benefits system on the European continent is also far more short term than it is in the UK, with bonuses being preferred to pensions schemes. It seems that across the Channel, pay is valued more amongst junior employees, with less reward for experience.

Back in the UK, the tactic of rewarding loyalty appears to be working in the current market. However it remains to be seen whether it will be successful in the future, in the light of a recent McKinsey report which forecasts that the skills shortage is showing no sign of improving. The report predicts that by 2020, we will have 40 million fewer college-educated candidates worldwide than is needed. In advanced economies, up to 95 million workers could lack the skills needed for employment, which will greatly affect the Life Sciences sector.

With a lack of talent entering the workplace, questions remain as to whether disciplines such as pharmacovigilance can continue to keep their existing highly skilled employees on such slow rising salaries, particularly as they reach five years’ experience and above. As opportunities arise from the shortage of highly qualified new recruits, it is perhaps inevitable that current drug safety employees will be in high demand, and the loyalty that has been established may be tested.

The long term benefits of a role in pharmacovigilance seem to be keeping its employees satisfied at the moment. Once the market changes however, companies may find that this tactic will have less success.

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About the author:

Yvette has worked within the Pharmaceutical Industry for 8 years with Janssen Cilag (Johnson & Johnson). She commenced her career within Pharmaceutical recruitment in 1999 building contract and permanent teams throughout the UK for the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies. Her background in the Pharmaceutical sector gave her an excellent insight into identifying the best people for organisations. Within 18 months of joining the recruitment sector she was heading up a UK wide recruitment team.

In 2006 Yvette moved to commerce and industry recruitment in the City of London across 8 London based teams as an Executive Director for a market leading accounts and finance recruiter. During her tenure of 5 years in post she was integral in the success and consequently most profitable business units within the Group alongside developing all company training programmes, companywide recruitment and HR function.

In 2012 Yvette joined Clinical Professionals as Group Managing Director. Yvette’s knowledge of the pharmaceutical sector is extensive and has been supported by a recent pharma MBA course and is ABPI qualified.

Closing thought: Why are drug safety employees satisfied with lower pay?