India's Talent Crunch


Applied Clinical Trials

Applied Clinical TrialsApplied Clinical Trials-11-01-2008
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A look into the country's job market today and what's driving many employees to company hop.

India has seen an explosive growth of clinical trial activity in the recent past,1,2 and this pace is expected to continue and accelerate in the coming few years. Capacity expansion hinges on a rich talent pool of medical, paramedical, and science graduates—which has been quoted as one of the many "India advantages." In this article we analyze some of the employability and talent retention issues and the direct and immediate impact we face.

Photography: Getty Images Illustration: Paul A. Belci

Entry data

We retrospectively analyzed the suitability for employment based on performance in entry level assessments of 1200 candidates who had applied for various clinical research positions in response to advertisements we placed in leading newspapers. The roles included entry and lead-level positions for clinical research associates (CRAs), data managers, statistical analysis software (SAS) programmers, and project managers.

Candidates with suitable qualifications were assessed for technical skills by tests specifically designed for the role. English language and computing skills were also tested. A structured personal interview was conducted to assess soft skills (e.g., communication, negotiation, and presentation skills), cultural fit, and matching of other expectations.

Sixty percent of candidates failed the entry level assessment for technical skills. English language test scores were below acceptable levels for 55% of candidates, while 30% were evaluated as inadequate in soft skills like business communication and presentation skills. Fifteen percent were found culturally misfit, and 25% of candidates' salary expectations, travel requirements or other career growth expectations did not match what the company could offer.

Exit data

Exit interview data and data from interviews with potential employees were analyzed to understand what prompted employees to change jobs and to understand any emerging trends that could be acted upon.

Sixty percent of candidates were offered greater than 40% salary jumps, 55% were offered higher positions, with 20% being offered positions two levels higher.

The direct fall out of the talent crunch was seen in the escalating salary levels. Cost to company increases over the past three years were observed to be in the range of 22% to 67% for entry level positions. For the experienced, it was as high as 71% to 120% (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: The average increases in salary over three years (200,000 Rupees = 4000 USD).

Eighty percent of employees who resigned mentioned "better prospects" as a blanket term for the move. Sixty-five percent of our employees left for sponsor company jobs.


There have been several reports3-7 of an acute shortage of an employable workforce in the past few years. In a report on India's future in offshoring by McKinsey & Company, human resources managers reported the proportion of employable Indian graduates varies according to the field of study; for each field, 10% to 25% of Indian graduates are employable.8 Ernst & Young9 reports qualified people being unemployable as the biggest challenge in recruitment for as many as 64% of the 700 surveyed.

As more clinical research work pours into India, trained and enterprise-ready resources will be increasingly sought after. Rapid expansion of several CROs and pharma companies and intense competition is giving way to unhealthy practices of poaching trained and experienced talent. Since clinical research is still very nascent in India, most graduates are still not aware of careers and growth paths in this field. This also causes them to take the first available job offer and soon switch based on satisfaction levels.

Integrated talent management initiatives within the clinical research enterprise are the needs of the hour. Bridging educational curricula with specialized training and development programs is one of the initiatives suggested in several reports.9-11 In the Ernst & Young survey,9 respondents chose options like funding the infrastructure of a research organization, sponsoring courses in academic institutions, instituting awards, short-term training within the organization, and acting as guest faculty in training institutions as options to increase employability of R&D personnel.


1. M. De, "India, Ideal Destination for Clinical Trials," Current Science, 89 (4) August 2005.

2. S. Gambrill, "A New Era Begins for India's Clinical Research Market," CenterWatch Monthly (July 2006).

3. G. S. Krishnan and G. Kamath, "Lab's Labour," Businessworld, May 2005.

4. V. Moza, "Opportunities and Challenges for clinical research in India," Express Pharma Pulse, (December 2005).

5. B. Pande, "Clinical Research in India Needs 12,000 Extra Hands," The Economic Times, (October 27, 2006).

6. K. Barnes, "Recruitment Problems Dogging India's Clinical Trials Industry," (October 3, 2006).

7. G.S. Krishnan and G. Kamath, "Clinical Trials and Tribulations," Businessworld (September 10, 2007).

8. D. Farrell, N. Kaka, S. Strurze, "Ensuring India's Offshoring Future: The Mckinsey Quarterly 2005 Special Edition: Fullfilling India's Promise,"

9. Ernst & Young India, The Indian Life Sciences Industry: People Redefining Partnership Decisions (2007).

10. A. Bhatt, "The Challenges of Growth in Clinical Research: Training Gap Analysis," Pharma Bio World, March-April 2005, 56-58.

11. G. Kamath, "Failing the Test," Businessworld,

Anand Bidarkar, NDS, MBA, is vice president, business development, at SIRO Clinpharm Pvt Ltd., 2nd Floor, DIL Complex, Near Vidyapeeth, Swami Vivekananda Road, Thane West -400607, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India. Samyuktha Ajay,* M Pharm, is vice president, corporate training and development at SIRO Clinpharm, email:

*To whom all correspondence should be addressed.

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