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Rob Biederman, co-CEO of Catalant Technologies, on why biopharma employees should consider a new career path.
In this installment of the Harvard Business School Healthcare Alumni Association (HBSHAA) Q&A series, providing executive insights for readers to shape their own career paths, Rob Biederman, co-CEO of Catalant Technologies, speaks to HBSHAA Emeritus Board Member Michael Wong about why biopharma employees should consider a new career path.
Michael Wong: With even non-profit jobs offering six-figure starting salaries, why should graduating students consider independent consulting versus the stability and higher-paying starting salaries of healthcare? After all, upon graduating from Princeton, didn’t you take on a traditional career track with Goldman Sachs and Bain Capital?
Rob Biederman: While the HBS Class of 2020 and recent grads (less than five years) can and should take advantage of the relative stability that big pharma and other well-regarded employers provide in terms of compensation and training, workforce dynamics are rapidly changing the long-term career landscapes, not only for healthcare, but also other industries. With cradle-to-grave careers long gone, individuals need to have the agility and fortitude to take on assignments that require different skills and capabilities. And, frankly, while many companies talk about reskilling their employees, one can continue to see how restructurings are instead the norm.
So, it’s not surprising that one research report points to how freelancers are projected to be the majority of the US workforce within ten years.For many workers, it means that they need to carefully rethink their assumptions about their future job prospects and especially the associated timelines. While the timeline will be different for each person’s unique situation, one should not assume that you can just choose a time, depart, and become a consultant.
At Catalant Technologies, of our 65,000 independent experts who support over 30% of the Fortune 100, approximately 35% are Generation Y/millennials (born between 1980-1994) and are currently between 26 and 40 years old. Interestingly, over 80% of this cohort have at least four years of Fortune 500 experience and hence one can see how people are choosing a non-traditional career path to their elder Baby Boomer colleagues. To me, these millennials see the value of joining the independent consultant ranks far earlier in their careers.
MW: Well, ten years is a long time. Why not just invest the next decade at a premier big pharma and then look for one’s next gig?
RB: If your current employer does offer a strong retooling of skills for its staff, then you might be in good shape. However, you need to realistically see if your skills synch up well with where your company is moving towards in terms of people, processes, and technology. For example, what is its human capital strategy in terms of its FTEs versus contractors? As for processes and technology, even if your department is not eliminated, do you honestly have the technical skills to meet the rapidly changing human-to-machine working hours’ interplay?  It’s very easy to stay put in the comfortable embrace of a large Fortune 500 firm. Smarter workers embrace assuming stretch assignments which often are outside of their current employers.
MW: So, what are the top three recommendations to introduce an independent consultant role within one’s long-term career map?
RB: First, you need a clear understanding of your specialties and skills. Creating a resume or robust profile that can highlight your strengths from previous consulting work and call attention to any niche skillsets you may possess.
Second, as an independent consultant you are responsible for all of your own business development. That can mean calling connections and networking or it can mean signing up for an online talent marketplace that can allow you to find and bid on work. The benefit of a more tech enabled approach is being able to sort through hundreds of potential engagements and find something you’re passionate about. It also creates a digital record of the work you’ve done and the skills you’ve developed.
Finally, think realistically about your goals and motivations for getting involved. Is this something you are doing to replicate full-time employment? Is it about the intellectual challenge? Having a keen sense for what specifically you want to get out of working in this way will help you better align your efforts and time allocation.
Rob Biederman is co-CEO of Catalant Technologies. Michael Wong is an Emeritus Board Member and co-President of the Harvard Business School Healthcare Alumni Association.
 Harvard Business School Class of 2019 industry statistics https://www.hbs.edu/recruiting/data/Pages/industry.aspx
 Ryan, Liz, "Long-Term Employment Is Over - Where Does That Leave You," Forbes, 11/11/2016.
 Hummelgaard, Peter, "The jobs forecast is unsettled. It's time for a reskilling revolution," World Economic Forum, 2020. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/01/denmark-reskilling-revolution-future-of-work/