The challenge that AlfaNordic is facing, as it is looking right now – and what we see when we visit our customers – is that the industry is short of experienced resources. Several companies have a situation where a new employee is only new for one single day because the companies hire new people every single day. The growth that we ourselves at AlfaNordic have been through for the last couple of years offers a very good picture of the pharma industry in general.
The need for competent and skilled people is acute, and these people are hard to get hold of. We compete for the same people. At the same time, many of the young people entering the job market from the University of Copenhagen or the engineering schools are heading directly into unemployment. This is a somewhat absurd situation because there is a real need for their resources, but for natural reasons they are not technically or professionally equipped for everyday life in the pharma industry. They are skilled but they don’t have the knowledge and experience required within the industry.
”It is easier to do it yourself than to train somebody to do it”. We all know that thought. The task load that we are all facing already will be increased by 20-30% when we have to train somebody else. The task load may be somewhat reduced again later, but most people find it hard to find the time for training somebody else when they are already under their own work-related stress.
Based on these assessments, we at AlfaNordic have considered how we can address this situation. We would like to take on more responsibility for training and educating the young. Our company already employs 5-6 young people who have been with us from they left the universities. They are doing really well. They are some of the first to be assigned to our customers and their services there are renewed again and again by our customers. So the idea is to get hold of the young, the skilled, the empathic, the young with management potentials and social competencies. We want to bring them inside our business, fill them with education and then we want to pass them on to the industry.
A different initiative
The pharmaceutical industry itself hires a lot of young people. They have many nuances of different graduate programmes, they drive around in busses and tell the young people about their companies. We want to be an alternative to this. We want to make sure that the young people receive a learning curve which grows exponentially over a short period of time. We believe that we can act as a catalyst for that learning and speed it up so that an employee with 2 years’ experience in reality gains the equivalent of a 5-year experience.
This is the task we would like to take upon ourselves. We handle recruiting of the young in collaboration with the schools and we make sure that we hire the right people. They are employed by us for a 2-year period, and subsequently, one of the big pharma companies in Denmark (also called the sponsor) takes them over after a carefully planned course of events. For the 2-year period they are affiliated to their sponsor but are also trained by AlfaNordic. The main purpose is to create a unique employee for a unique workplace. We have consultants working with most of the big pharma companies. We will be acting as mentors for the young people which means that all the questions you have at the beginning when you are young, you ask the mentor. The pharma industry is an industry containing many complex processes, abbreviations and terms. Every two weeks you meet with your mentor in order to establish good contact, discuss work tasks and other relevant issues. When the 2 years are over, the employee is transferred to the specific sponsor.
Special focus on the young
Our focus is particularly aimed at newly educated engineers, pharmacists and automation technologists. At the moment we are in close dialogue with the University of Copenhagen, DTU and the Copenhagen School of Design and Technology (Københavns Erhvervsakademi). We hope they can help us find the right candidates. The focus of the education course of events is on all pharma-related subjects and we call the education GMP Production Professional. We believe this is a win win win. The universities have a very positive attitude towards our initiative and would like to have a closer dialogue with the business community. They already have this dialogue with many big companies, but would also like to have a close dialogue with smaller companies. For the young, it is an attractive conclusion to a long education process. They can go out directly and start working in a company with a very focused education as a natural continuation of what they learned in school. It will be possible for them to work across technical disciplines within pharma because they will be equipped properly for this. A meeting is held with the sponsor every 2 months during which meeting the process and course of events are discussed.
You also get to be part of a team when the young candidates meet on their education days and in other social contexts when AlfaNordic employees meet. The fact that they can use our consultants and each other as sounding boards is a very essential part of the concept.
Cooperation with a higher purpose
It is important for AlfaNordic to establish an attachment which is not just a typical customer / supplier relationship but also a relationship where we share a mission of sending off our young people in the right direction and on the right track. It is cooperation with a higher purpose. We contribute to ensuring that more well-educated employees are headed for the pharma industry. Our Pharma Academy is just one of many initiatives launched in various places, but it is an important initiative. The young people are offered the opportunity to experience the many facets of the pharma industry, and when they are employed by the sponsor after the 2 years, they already know the company well. The companies will see that the newly educated candidates come to them equipped with valuable technical knowledge because they have had back-up all the way. The company thus gains a very unique employee.
Interaction with the educational institutions
The idea is that the educational institutions are to discuss the education with the young people in the schools and take part in the selection; we want the best in the class. These are not necessarily the young with the highest marks, but also the young people who possess good social skills, management potentials and know-how to work in teams. We hope that, at some point in time, the institutions can also contribute to the education. In continuation of the traditional education, the teachers may contribute with something and also take something back to the schools which can provide a very direct picture of life in the business community.
Customised courses of events
We have established a course of events which has been well received by our customers. It is a starting point where we have chosen some areas which are common for the pharma industry but which are typically not issues being discussed in the schools. And then the material is tailored to the individual company.
We are administrators, we coordinate the selection, we are responsible for the newly educated, and we take part in the education process. The major part the process will be performed by our skilled specialists. We handle salaries, contracts and the dialogue with the sponsors. The companies pay and the price is favourable. They also take part in the last part of the selection when the field has been narrowed down and they coordinate the jobs. They have a quarterly talk with the young candidates and handle the necessary training on the site so that the candidates learn how to act in the place where they are going to work.
Q&A with Frank Winther-Hinge
How did the idea come about?
We ourselves are short of skilled consultants in our business and this represents a general snapshot of the pharma industry. We have succeeded in producing some really skilled pharma people. We have 5-6 young employees who by and large joined us directly from school. They are in high demand and we would like to employ more of them in our company. It is however of no use if we hire them and then fail to fill them with experience. So our focus has been on that. They must be properly equipped. Furthermore, our company is now so big that we also have a responsibility for offering young newly-educated people some more.
How many candidates are you looking for now?
We start off with a team of 8 graduates in September. We have contracts with sponsors for 4 of them, and then we take in 4 ourselves. The 4 candidates we take in ourselves, they will stay with us later and will become hard-core consultants. We are still working on the recruiting process so it is of course exciting to welcome new candidates on-board.
How old are they?
Typically about 25 years.
How hard will it be to find candidates?
I don’t believe it will be hard; considering that the candidate will be hired as a young person into a company where two parties will be responsible for his or her interests. You have a company (AlfaNordic) who has strong focus on you, and you have a business (sponsor) that you will move on to when the education is concluded – who also works for you. Both parties want you to be a success. And the salary is competitive. Beyond this, our experience with the young people shows us that they are ambitious and have a drive which carries them along.
Can you apply for the education?
Yes, you can apply. I am actually in the process of writing a job description right now. It will appear on our website and in the schools, even though we think that most of the candidates this time around will be selected by the schools.
Are you drawing up a contract with the young candidates?
Yes, but in principle they can stop any time they want. You cannot force anybody to stay and that would not be in our best interest either. Our guarantee to the sponsors is that the candidate stays a minimum of 2 years with them after they have stopped working with us, and if they don’t we are under an obligation to provide somebody else. Added to this, the young candidates will be offered a financial gain (stay-on bonus) for staying on at the company.
How would you describe the interest on the part of the companies?
Their wish to be part of this is rather extensive, but we still have a little ways to go from the established interest to a signed agreement. We are still a relatively small company so there is of course a natural scepticism as to whether we can honour the expectations. Launching an ambitious project like this one is about proving that we are able to transfer all this education to the young candidates. So we are setting out to show that we can do this.
We have consultants working in a lot of companies. If a company signs a contract with one of the young candidates, typically be one of the consultants already assigned to that company will be assigned the role of mentor, so it will be a consultant who already knows the company well. The benefits of this are numerous. The mentors are people who are over 40 years old. They typically have 20 years of experience within the pharma industry from their work with a wide range of companies. All this knowledge will be transferred to the young candidates. I have not heard anyone say that they don’t believe in the project, but a lot of companies really want to see some results before they commit themselves to something.
Who are the companies that you focus on?
The first time around, we focus on some of the big companies in the pharma industry in Denmark, but our long-term plans are also to focus on the smaller companies. Right here and now we prefer to place more than one young candidate in the same company in order to create a sense of team spirit – make them feel that they are part of a team.
What happens if the company suddenly no longer has any use for the young candidate?
If it happens that a company has no use for the young candidate when the 2 years are concluded then we help the candidate – in cooperation with the company – land in the right place. Possibly in a different department in the same company.
What are the contents of the training?
Once every quarter we bring up some relevant topics. The young candidates then attend the class room training of a 3-5 days’ duration, with concluding tests that will ensure that the training has been understood.
What sets AlfaNordic’s GMP Production Professional apart from an ordinary graduate programme?
To put it briefly, you get a unique employee for a unique department. In earlier graduate programmes that I have seen, a company hires 10-20 young people and they circulate in the different departments in the company. They are usually affiliated to a HR department. The candidate spends 6 months in department X and 6 months in department Y, but there is no supplementary training. It is learning-by-doing.
With AlfaNordic, they continuously receive a specialised education. They are supervised closely for 2 years during which time they gain a lot of experience because they exchange experience with the mentor who backs them up. They receive a supplement to the education which is based on actual cases from the real world, and in which we are in a unique position to train the graduate. Beyond their mentor, they also have a support base which, at the present time, consists of more than 60 consultants. We make a point of creating strong ties in the company and the young candidates are of course also a part of that. So they are not only backed up by a mentor but by an extensive preparedness system. Our employees come from many different companies within the pharma industry, they possess a world of different competencies and contribute to the young candidates gaining experience that goes way beyond what goes on in the individual companies.
Before they finish their time with AlfaNordic, we draw up a development plan together with the sponsor, a plan that typically covers a duration of 2 years. This means that a development plan has been signed so they are taken care of even after they officially leave AlfaNordic. This is not just a traditional development course of events with Employee Development Reviews but a proactive development plan for making sure that the young candidates land successfully on their feet in the company.
How much more does this cost the companies?
It is not going to cost any more. On the contrary, if you look at it from a long-term perspective. The companies actually only pay for a consultant, and as these are young candidates, the hourly fee is lower than for an older consultant. You can imagine that a company that needs resources uses a lot of time, energy and money on hiring and training. We are not looking at a situation where a pool of employees are just out were waiting. The company has to spend energy finding the people who are already out there working. These are not the people we get hold of. We get hold of the young people. The people who have not had any experience after leaving school. There are quite a few more of those out there.
We do not charge extravagant prices for these people. What is important to us is volume and we also want to bring more skilled consultants into the market. We ourselves are short of consultants and are going to run the same programme internally at AlfaNordic, so why not offer this programme to our customers at a favourable price? At the same time, they gain an employee who will be theirs after 2 years. Our customers are typically faced with a dilemma when they hire a consultant and then, when they – at a later point in time – have no more need for that consultant, some of the acquired knowledge stays with the consultant. The consultants take the knowledge with them. With AlfaNordic Academy we are under an obligation to make sure that all the knowledge we have of the specific company, everything that the young candidates learn along the way, all that stays with the customers. So the young candidates can actually be viewed as an investment certificate – a share that the customer buys and which should preferably increase in value. We definitely view that as an investment.
What do you mean by a unique employee?
The unique employee emerges for several reasons: AlfaNordic has a consultant assigned to the specific company – a consultant who already knows the processes going on in the company, and who will act as a mentor for the young graduate. The knowledge that the consultant has acquired will be transferred to the young employee who will quickly gain a unique understanding of the company. Beyond that, the continuous training we give our students will be bound up on the specific company and the problems the company works with. The education is customised to fit these problems and issues.
At the same time, the young candidate works at the company for 2 years, in parallel with the education. The young candidate is thus not just a consultant. Basically you might say that the company has outsourced the introduction process to us while we transfer education and experience to the candidate until the company one day takes over a top-tuned, very experienced and unique employee.