A four-digit job cut like the one announced by Roche last month feeds the narrative that New Jersey's Big Pharma juggernaut is getting smaller by the day.
But experts say there's a much more complex reality, one characterized not so much by contraction, but by reorganization. While some major drug companies are shedding jobs, many others, including hundreds of new startups, are hiring. Laid-off workers also are finding work as consultants or contractors, sometimes doing contract work for the very same companies that laid them off.
Joe Peters, president of Scientific Search, a Cherry Hill-based staffing and search firm, said the current hiring picture isn't particularly good or bad.
"There's steady hiring," he said. "It's not tremendous hiring, and it's not really slow."
Peters is active in a number of different science-focused industries in New Jersey and the mid-Atlantic region.
"We're seeing a little less hiring from the larger pharma companies, and more with startups and biotech," he said. "We're also seeing more with generics. Some of the generic manufacturing companies have been hiring pretty well."
Peters said companies also are changing the way they do their work, with larger pharma companies contracting out even research and development work.
With so much change going on, it can be hard to track who, exactly, is hiring. One way the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development aims to solve that problem is by creating talent networks, including the Life Sciences Talent Network, which is being administered by the biotech trade group BioNJ. The network hosts job fairs and other work force development programs, while its website lists job openings and has a database of résumés.
"There's a tremendous amount of activity," said Vicki Gaddy, who leads the talent network. "I would say it's at early-stage (companies) all the way up to our largest biotech company here in the state, which is Celgene. There's a tremendous amount of hiring that's taking place."
Celgene Corp., the Summit-based behemoth, is currently hiring about 150 people to add to its 4,800-strong global work force, according to Carol Thompson, a senior director in human resources.
"We are growing steadily across all of our functions, and we do obviously continue to back-fill positions that become vacant, but our turnover rate is very, very low," Thompson said. She estimated Celgene's turnover at around 5 percent — about half the industry average.
Thompson said the positions being filled include corporate infrastructure posts in finance and operations, as well as research and development, and other areas. The company also makes a point to hire medical doctors, she said.
Dean J. Paranicas, president and CEO of the HealthCare Institute of New Jersey, said the life sciences remain the largest job-driver in the state.
Paranicas noted new entrants are bringing jobs to New Jersey, including Allergan Inc., Celsion Corp. and Ipsen Group, as well as companies that plan expansion here, including Bayer HealthCare and Novo Nordisk.
Part of the reason those companies are investing in New Jersey is their belief that the state has plenty of qualified workers to fill their new positions. Thompson, at Celgene, said she's pleased with the local labor market.
"I think the talent pools have never been better in New Jersey," Thompson said. "I think that we are seeing top people coming out of the top companies in the industry."
Still, Peters said, people coming from top companies aren't always ideal candidates for startups, "because at these smaller firms, you're wearing a lot of hats."
Peters said the perception is that workers get "pigeon-holed" at Big Pharma firms, so they may not be able to adjust to the jack-of-all-trades job requirements at smaller firms.
Gaddy and the BioNJ Life Sciences Talent Network have stepped in to work with Big Pharma firms that are downsizing to help those workers access job training resources and find new work.
Debbie Hart, president of BioNJ, said there's tremendous job-growth potential in the industry, but she said that potential will only be fully realized if companies can find the capital and business climate needed to prosper.
Hart said the funding climate for life sciences startups remains murky. In a job market where small firms are doing much of the hiring, she said, every state incentive helps.
"As companies can find the money, I think they're hiring," she said. "That's the bottom line for our industry."
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