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The Learning Advantage: How Strategic L&D Can Optimize Pharma Rotational Programs for Success


Companies offering post-grad rotational programs develop broad skillsets in new hires.

Gaurav Gupta

Gaurav Gupta
Managing director

Spring is in the air, and for many students, graduation is just around the corner. With new grads preparing to start their careers, rotational programs throughout the pharmaceutical industry are preparing for the new cohorts to join their ranks. These rotational programs have been a very effective way for new hires to understand the complexity of today’s organizations, and for many firms, they serve as a useful way to entice and develop talent. Companies like Genentech, Pfizer, and many other major players in the pharmaceutical industry offer these post-grad rotational programs designed to develop a broad skill set and a holistic view of an organization’s operations. The level of thoughtfulness in the design of these programs varies–some serve primarily as a means for new grads to get exposure to various parts of the business and others are a more deliberate part of a talent development strategy. The value of these programs can be significantly enhanced by taking a structured approach to learning and development (L&D) as part of the strategy.

Rotational programs represent a significant investment in resources but the return on this investment can be amplified by incorporating intentional L&D initiatives throughout. With many rotational cohorts consisting of high-potential talent, creating an impactful experience can generate value to both the individuals and the organization. Below are three starting points to consider as program preparation begins.

Include talent stakeholders from the start

While rotational programs have designated teams to design and manage the program and its day-to-day operation, the talent management team needs to be part of the planning process. Dedicated program teams sometimes struggle to connect the organizational priorities with program offerings, leaving participants disconnected from the overall talent strategy. Integrating approaches with the talent or people team will allow for additional training and feedback related to each rotation and the cohort overall. Because rotational programs are often measured by retention, having a representative from talent management on deck from the start can ensure a clear learning track, feedback loop, successful matriculation, and well-suited placements for cohort participants as they transition through the two years and into their permanent positions.

Allocate time to L&D specifically

Rotational programs provide great hands-on experience and exposure for participants. These roles tend to have more flexibility as participants usually do not have ownership over critical operational activities and are often “doubling up” on tasks. Take this flexibility and make the most of it. Custom learning pathways can focus on skills specific to each rotation and ensure participants are best prepared for their next transition, while building additional capabilities for emerging needs and soft skills. Generative AI, research and analytics, presentation skills, and building executive presence are just a few of the specialized skills that companies might consider offering to equip employees with future-focused tools. These learning pathways can and should evolve based on areas of success or improvement during each rotation to provide ultra-relevant skills develop opportunities throughout the program.

Track growth and strengths to inform rotations

Making the most of specially allocated L&D time also pays dividends when it comes to preparing for the next rotation. Having an active feedback loop fed by regular discussions between participants and their manager or mentor about current projects, goals, and challenges can help provide a more accurate blueprint for the subsequent rotations. Rather than rotating based on how cohorts have rotated in the past, taking skills and interests into consideration to tailor rotations can have positive outcomes for business teams and participants as they try to figure out their place within the organization. By tracking growth and skills development, participants can fill gaps and better understand what they are or are not interested in for the longer-term, helping inform the rotations along the way.

It's rare to have additional time and flexibility to explore new or different skills once you’re fully ingrained in a team or permanent placement. For those in a rotational program, having the ability to receive additional training and educational opportunities will be incredibly valuable as they determine their longer-term role at the company. The engagement with and investment in these individuals also builds loyalty and energy. As pharmaceutical companies look to the future and these young leaders, building a strong skills base and employee engagement from day one will make a big difference in retention and overall business outcomes. Take time this spring while planning to kick off rotational programs to invest in additional L&D opportunities and expand the full ROI of the program.

Gaurav Gupta is managing director at Kotter.

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