At the recent Asia Pacific MedTech Forum 2021: Health Futures by 2025, hosted by the Asia Pacific Medical Technology Association (APACMed), I had the great pleasure of moderating a panel titled “The evolving regulatory landscape and preparing for a globally harmonized future-ready workforce.”
I was joined by panelists representing MedTech companies, universities and an industry association. We had a lively discussion about the state of the industry in this region, and I came away with some new insights about how we can best shape the MedTech workforce in the APAC region for the future.
Potential gaps in the APAC MedTech workforce
The APAC MedTech workforce today is mainly focused on supporting the sales and marketing of products distributed through the global supply chain from other geographies, particularly those headquartered in Europe and the US. When our panel imagined how the industry might grow and change in the next 5-7 years, we identified three main talent gaps:
- Regulatory expertise. In my previous blog post “Cybersecurity standards for APAC MedTech”, I touched on the complex regulatory landscape we have to navigate here in the APAC region. Within the patchwork of regional markets of various sizes and levels of maturity, MedTech companies face an array of regulations that vary widely. To thrive in this environment, companies need to ensure they can stay on top of the rapidly evolving requirements. This coupled with the pace of evolution of regulations can be managed by driving harmonization and standard trainings to up-skill talent in the regulatory function, both for the industry and regulators.
- Technical skills. Technology in MedTech is evolving at breakneck speed. If companies in the region want to develop and manufacture the types of more complicated devices that we’ve historically imported, they will need to build a workforce with strong technology, software, data and cybersecurity capabilities. They’ll also need to be able to apply these skills to humanizing new products and services. Equally, on the sales and marketing side of the business, they’ll need to strengthen their digital competencies—such as best-in-class customer relationship management (CRM) solutions to enable the sales team. And they’ll need to stay on top of emerging technologies and the new products being developed to effectively engage with buyers—hospitals, doctors and pharma companies.
- Operations and supply chain competencies. In a competitive market, everyone is trying to do more with less. But they still need to ensure that the right products are available at the right time and place, to the right people, with the appropriate level of service. And in today’s world, all this has to be done sustainably. As with other areas in the industry, the supply chain and logistics workforce will need to stay abreast of emerging innovations and technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning as they’re used more and more frequently to automate manual processes.
Challenges in training the future workforce
To fill these talent gaps, the industry needs to reskill the existing workforce and provide training for newcomers. This will be challenging on several levels.
Current workers, often expected to fulfill multiple roles, don’t have the bandwidth to stay on top of new innovations. Additionally, there has been insufficient investment in relevant training—something that’s been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with many programs put on hold while funds were diverted to support remote work, resolve supply chain issues and perform work around vaccine development and distribution.
The types of training and who will be responsible for it is worth discussing at the industry level. For example, training in the diverse array of regional regulatory requirements could be tackled collaboratively, with harmonized, curriculum and “affordable” training certifications. An industry organization such as APACMed might be well-positioned to lead an initiative like this.
Technology, operations, supply chain, and sales & marketing training are more likely to be the responsibility of MedTech companies individually, albeit perhaps with collaboration from ecosystem partners and startups. The C-suite, which is mostly focused on operations innovations right now, will need to pay more attention to training if they want to future-proof the workforce.
Where should MedTech companies focus?
For MedTech companies wondering how to fill these potential talent gaps, I recommend three areas to consider:
- Embrace a standardized curriculum framework for regulatory competencies. This should be an industry-wide initiative, building on the work APACMed has already done, with ongoing updates so it remains current and relevant—and easily accessible to all companies in the region.
- Leverage technology and data to increase cross-market, cross-country collaboration. Everyone is stretched, so companies and regulators need to find ways to learn from each other, particularly in non-compete areas, like regulatory policies and cybersecurity issues.
- Support CHROs in playing a bigger role and with more investments in training the workforce of the future. MedTech CHROs need to have a more strategic and holistic view of HR to ensure the workforce is trained appropriately. They should also consider taking advantage of new models being adopted in other sectors, such as using the pool of freelance workers and short-term contractors to provide a more flexible workforce able to be deployed when needed.
A final point we discussed on the panel was the need for APAC MedTech companies to include strategic thinking and leadership as a foundational competency in training across every functional area. Without a strategic vision, decision-making will always tend to be reactive rather than proactive. Companies able to think in terms of “the art of the possible” will be better able to seize opportunities in the global marketplace, embrace innovation and grow the business.