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PPD launches veteran CRA training program in industry shift toward competency-based standards

Monday, April 3, 2017

Pharmaceutical Product Development (PPD) is turning to veterans to grow its future clinical research associate (CRA) workforce. The company said in a recent announcement it will recruit military veterans with medical backgrounds as apprentice trainees in the CRA field, which has been reported to be experiencing a labor shortage.

“The apprenticeship program is designed to circumvent the standard work experience requirement,”  Tim Neathery, vice president, Human Resources at PPD, told CenterWatch. “It is a proficiency-based program and we expect participants to progress through the program in a year’s time. It allows individuals to get accelerated exposure and move more quickly into a CRA role.”

To begin, PPD will recruit for the program in areas with military installations. These areas initially will include the Research Triangle Park/Wilmington, North Carolina, area; Austin, Texas; and San Diego, California.

“It is very exciting to see an organization such as PPD recognizing the potential of our veterans through a targeted recruitment and training program,” said James Simpson, project manager for North Carolina for Military Employment (NC4ME) and veterans employment representative with NCWorks. “With the third largest population of active and reserve military personnel in the country, North Carolina is blessed with a continuous flow of exceptionally qualified veterans into our workforce.”

According to Neathery, veterans have the experience and training that translate well to the CRA profession.

“The industry as a whole is experiencing a shortage of talent. … We’re looking for ways to continue to expand our ability to train individuals to move into this career path,” he said. “We seek individuals who have previous experience in a medical environment, leadership experience and training, and successful experience in a deadline-driven environment.”

The announcement also lends further evidence that the long standing two-year apprentice model is giving way to competency-based standards. Jim Kremidas, executive director of the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP), supports the initiative.

“It’s a really brilliant move,” he said. “It’s always good to employ vets and from an industry perspective, there is a shortage of CRAs. This is a nice way to get more people in the workforce.”

The new program comes at an opportune time as the clinical research industry is on the verge of adopting a new set of eight competencies being organized by ARCP. According to Kremidas, the initiative is in the review and sign-off phase. The shift from experience to competency is in response to a 2015 study, as reported in October of last year by CenterWatch, which found more than 10,000 CRA positions open in the U.S.

The eight competencies currently in review cover a wide range of needed skills, including scientific concepts, ethics, safety, trial operations and informatics.

Kremidas said that ARCP and its steering committee members, which included PPD, have worked with big pharma to develop the next competencies and to roll out the changes to clinical enterprises.

“We’ve put out the competencies for comment, received responses and are in the process of finalizing the competency framework,” he noted. 

The unemployment rate for veterans announced last week by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics is 5.1%, compared to 4.6% for the general population. There are nearly 21 million veterans over the age of 18 in the U.S., or about 9% of the population.

According to Neathery, veteran hiring is a priority for PPD.

“We see a natural connection between the requirements of this position and the training and experience provided through the military,” he said.

PPD is also benefiting from guidance internally on the issue—Chief Operating Officer William Sharbaugh is a veteran.

“I understand the need to provide viable career opportunities to those who have served,” said Sharbaugh. “Our industry-first CRA apprenticeship program recognizes the skills of veterans and transitioning service members with medical backgrounds. Through their service, they have developed the requisite skills of leadership and … are motivated to join us in helping deliver life-changing medicines.”

PPD said it will be responsible for the full operation of managing the program, including recruitment. Simpson, of NC4ME, said that employers can do well by keeping veterans in mind when recruiting, especially in instances of shortages.

“In industries whose primary focus is scientific research, the military is an untapped pool of talent, especially when training is available to complement the leadership experience of the typical service member,” he said.


This article was reprinted from Volume 21, Issue 13, of CWWeekly, a leading clinical research industry newsletter providing expanded analysis on breaking news, study leads, trial results and more. Subscribe »

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