Labor Department Seeks to Retrain Displaced Pharma Workers

The recent announcement by Merck that it plans to move its global headquarters — where 1,000 employees work — from Whitehouse Station to Summit, is the latest shake-up in the pharmaceutical industry which was once an economic stalwart in the Garden State. But mergers have cost New Jersey a lot of pharma jobs, which has led the Christie administration to allocate $2.6 million to retrain former pharmaceutical workers. NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider spoke with Mary Ellen Clark, Assistant Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development (LWD), about the initiative.

Said Clark, “this is an allocation of about $5000 per person for each individual who’s been affected by downsizing or layoffs in the pharmaceutical industry, to get them to be either retrained or learn a new skill or think about alternative careers.”


Clark says LWD is getting the word out about the effort through and at one-stop career centers throughout the state and at special events. “We had several at Rutgers University and some of the community colleges and [we’re] really trying to go where the individuals are,” she said.

The pharmaceutical workforce is one that is generally highly educated and highly skilled. According to Clark, workers from this industry have transferable skills or can be trained to fill gaps in other industries.

“So if people have the background and just need a brush-up in skills, we can provide that,” Clark said. “There are other areas such as medical devices, diagnostics [and] biotechnology firms in New Jersey who are really hungry for the wonderful skills that the pharmaceutical workers have.”

The downsizing in the pharmaceutical industry has greatly affected those 45 years and over. But statistically, Clark says workers under 30 are the ones with the higher unemployment rate, with the highest belonging to those without a high school diploma.

“So I think it’s somewhat of a myth but the older you are, you have a great deal of wisdom and experience to share. So we’re finding that individuals can get good jobs even though they may be my age,” she said.

According to Clark, the mergers and contraction with the industry have created alternatives for enterprising jobseekers.

“There are smaller start-up companies who need good talent and we found also, some scientists who have been laid off have actually found partners and going into business themselves,” Clark said. “I think it’s just a changeover from where there were several monolithic companies, now there are a lot of smaller start-ups and a lot of partnering among the various actors in the field.”