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Automation and the Staffing Shortage

POSTED BY Rapid Micro Biosystems | 5 minute read

The easiest way to hold on to valued employees? Set them free.

Recently a recruitment email turned up in our inbox that captured the staffing dilemma facing many RMB customers. A nearby firm was seeking technical professionals with a chemistry or biomedical science degree, strong data mining and analytic skills, plus knowledge of biopharma manufacturing … all for an hourly-wage position in data entry. Small wonder that so many life science firms struggle to find and keep employees!

Wherever thriving biopharma hubs spring up, you’ll find companies competing for the same limited pool of skilled workers. Turnover is typically high, as are the pressures to deliver safe products while controlling costs. According to Today’s Clinical Lab, 72% of lab professionals said their facilities were understaffed, with 44% saying that they were unsatisfied in their role. And these professionals have plenty of options. Demand for microbiologists, for example, is expected to grow 9% this decade by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Accommodating the varied priorities of management, labor, markets, and public health is no easy challenge. In fact, it is nearly impossible, so long as labs try to meet today’s microbial quality control (MQC) standards with traditional compendial methods.

A single drug production facility might conduct anywhere from ten thousand to a million or more MQC tests annually. Despite this daunting workload, the great majority of QC Micro labs still ask their people to manually collect samples, physically transport them, scrawl on labels with a marker, visually inspect media plates, and record their counts for thousands of plates by hand. Result: disenchanted employees straining to keep up in a high-pressure, high-stakes workplace that doesn’t always make the best use of their skills.

Over the years we have demonstrated how our Growth Direct® System automates the compendial process – delivering faster results at higher testing throughputs, increasing accuracy by virtually eliminating human error, meeting stringent data integrity requirements, and optimizing process efficiency through the prevention of contamination, waste, and overproduction.

Yet there are other, subtler benefits to automation as well.

In countless discussions, companies big and small have shared their workforce concerns with us. These pain points aren’t always as easy to isolate as throughput or time-to-result, but they have a powerful and often cyclical effect on many QC Micro labs. They include:

  • Lagging productivity due to repetitive manual tasks and unnecessary investigations
  • Lack of motivation, leading to additional errors and costs
  • Departure of skilled microbiologists weary of routine sample collection and analysis
  • Spiraling recruitment and training costs for replacements
  • Heavy workloads for supervisors pressed into service onboarding hires and investigating newcomer errors, often resulting in burnout and still more departures

Even before Covid-19, biopharma manufacturers were expanding the search for trained, quality staff. This trend is continuing and will likely accelerate. So, how do you retain and grow talent? Use automation to empower them – supporting and freeing your QC Micro staff to do the higher value tasks that lead not only to continuous improvements, but to personal satisfaction.

What we have found at RMB is that automation is not about replacing human beings. The pursuit of better, safer drugs and medicines is too dynamic and innovative for mechanistic outsourcing. Rather, automation offers a way to replace error-prone manual tasks so that your highly trained lab personnel can bring their unique insight, experience, and inspiration to bear on the next generation of problems.

Forward-thinking biopharmaceutical organizations are using automation to create innovative workplaces that attract and retain talented scientists, technicians, and engineers. Those that don’t run the risk of losing their most precious assets. Which path will you choose?