The Future Is Now: Experts Look at Tomorrow’s Workforce, Today

Photograph of Jeanne Hecht

Jeanne Hecht, CEO, JTH Consulting, LLC

ACRP recently called on a number of clinical trial workforce thought leaders to get their predictions on how roles and skills for the enterprise will evolve and where it may lead in the near future. Experts weighed in on new challenges and opportunities awaiting clinical trial professionals as they navigate their best possible career path today, tomorrow, and beyond.

“The portion of the workforce that is engaged, in the know, [and] part of organizations like ACRP probably has an idea what’s coming and is making a plan, but those who are more isolated or naïve may be blindsided by these changes [coming] to their profession,” says Jamie Langley, Global Head, Parexel Academy.

“ACRP has leading-edge resources available to members to help them see what’s coming and benefit from it professionally,” notes Bridget Gonzales, Senior Director of Educational Programs for ACRP. “We’re here to help guide you throughout your career.”


Which Workplace Skills Will be More Important or Popular in the Future?

Jeanne Hecht, CEO, JTH Consulting, LLC — You’re going to see more need for data science specialists at contract research organizations. They’ll need to have the ability to identify insights and trends from data and use those to make projections. They’ll be able to commercialize gold mines of dormant data.

Elisa Cascade, Chief Product Officer, Science 37 — We’ll see a rise in the need for data skills, but data software packages may pick up a lot of the slack and you won’t need a PhD in data science to get the job done.

Jamie Langley, Global Head, Parexel Academy — Data analysis skills will [be paramount] for clinical research associates (CRAs) in the next few years.

Bridget Gonzales, Senior Director of Educational Programs, ACRP — I see an increased need for soft skills, especially in the area of critical thinking and problem solving. I believe these skills will be key in helping to manage new protocols, indications, and technology.


Jeanne Hecht - Future

"The role of the project manager will become even more important—and expensive. Today, they make $165,000 to $200,000 and there’s a scarcity of them. It’s a demanding job. They have to understand different levels of the trial and be able to pull levers to accelerate timelines and understand their impact on quality and speed. There is so much technology to manage, so many vendors to manage, [and] so many different locations (and countries) to manage."

— Jeanne Hecht, CEO, JTH Consulting, LLC


How Will Clinical Research Team Roles Shift in the Future?

Hecht — Technology implementation jobs will also be a hot new area in the workforce. I don’t know what the titles will be. We’ll see more emphasis on jobs requiring business acumen and focusing on the business of clinical trials [and] more emphasis on chief information officers and tech implantation staff.

Cascade — We’ll see a rise in the need for better technology (and in troubleshooting for patients using remote devices and other wearables).

Langley —Technology will rule the world. The CRA of the future will have to be tech savvy, managing multiple screens as we remove a lot of the face-to-face interaction the job once held. It’s a very different kind of interaction on screen [and] it will require a totally different mindset.

Isaac Rodriguez-Chavez, Senior Vice President, ICON plc — [I see the workforce as needing to be] more digitized, automated, and supported by technology. [There will be a] need for more computer savvy people, people comfortable multi-tasking and working remotely.

Maggie Locke, Recruiting Team Lead for Clinical Research, Kelly Science & Clinical — The skills [in demand] I see on the rise [involve] data focus and remote monitoring. The roles are changing more at site level and less in clinical operations.

Paul Higgins, Senior Clinical Research Account Executive, Kelly Science & Clinical — Employees have to build their own career paths. We see greater need for soft skills and technology acumen. Growing your own career is getting more focus [in terms of] how best to do it.


Elisa Cascade - Future

"We’ll see a rise in patient engagement coordinators—people trained to inspire and connect with potential patients to enroll them in a trial—especially [through] virtual recruitment as opposed to in person. These people can establish relationships over the phone and are trained with engaging messages. [They] also have open schedules to reach out 24/7, 365 days a year, and [aren’t] just calling people during a site’s traditional 9 to 5 work hours."

— Elisa Cascade, Chief Product Officer, Science 37


Training is More Important Than Ever

Langley — We have to prepare the future workforce to meet this skill gap in technology and data analysis. The talent pool [is already shallow], but this training must also be harmonized and connected to industry standards. We’ve got to tackle this palpable gap in talent.

Hecht — There will be an increasing need to understand the business [side of conducting clinical trials], and there are hardly any classes for it now. We need more “finance for non-finance managers” and more granular, deeper risk management classes.

Locke — Employers are becoming more “out of the box” in their thinking, looking at emotional intelligence as much as skill sets [to identify] an employee who might not be immediately qualified on paper but [who can be helped to] grow into the job.

Gonzales — I think training on the fundamentals of clinical research is key and adding soft sills will provide a workforce that is ready to work through change. I agree that training within technology will have a place as well, but I think we are still developing what that entails.


Paul Higgins - Future

"Be open-minded as an employee. On-the-job training is best, [along with] internships, association training—there are way more options in the career path if you listen for what companies need."

— Paul Higgins, Senior Clinical Research Account Executive at Kelly Science & Clinical