A young man in a white shirt stands in front of the blue Amgen logo on a white wall. He’s smiling at the camera.
Jake Jackson. Image: Amgen

What’s it like working as a biopharma manufacturing manager?

15 Jun 2021

Amgen’s Jake Jackson talks about what a typical day in his shoes entails, including the projects he works on and the skills that are important in his role.

The Covid-19 pandemic has, perhaps unsurprisingly, changed attitudes to working in the healthcare and pharma sectors.

A recent index of the most attractive employers in Ireland revealed that students across all sectors are increasingly ranking pharma and healthcare companies as the most desired places to work.

But what is it like to actually work in pharma and biotech companies? There are so many different areas to work in, from quality assurance and supply chain to bioprocessing and engineering.

Jake Jackson, for example, is a senior manufacturing manager for biopharma giant Amgen in Ireland. Here, he gives an insight into what his role entails.

‘The industry is beginning to become more competitive in terms of cost pressure and this is creating a burning platform for change’

If there is such a thing, can you describe a typical day in the job?

The day starts with a handover meeting with the outgoing shift to review the previous 24 hours’ performance in terms of safety, quality, delivery, inventory and productivity and communicate any hot topics which may have arisen.

The wider cross-functional team would review plan versus actual, and determine if there were any countermeasures to be initiated in response to substandard levels of performance. A typical day would involve a number of Gemba walks where myself and other members of the leadership team would spend time on the manufacturing floor to look for opportunities to recognise the success of the technicians for improvements that have been made or good catches in terms of safety etc.

This is also an opportunity to see if there are pressing issues that the team need support to resolve. A large portion of my day is spent looking at key performance indicator trends and looking for opportunities to improve through projects and initiatives.

What kind of projects do you work on?

The projects I work on directly as well as sponsor are usually closely aligned with our strategy and goals for the year. The projects could range from sponsoring a 5S lean project on the floor to supporting the installation and commissioning of a new automated inspection line.

The projects myself and the team would be involved in are generally cross-functional in nature and aim to improve reliability and efficiency, while looking for ways to become more agile when reacting to change. There is also a key focus on delivering projects that aim to differentiate us from other companies in the industry to create competitive advantage and deliver long-term growth.

What skills do you use on a daily basis?

I would say the key skills required to be successful in this type of role are prioritisation, decision-making and problem-solving. There are so many moving parts and interlinked critical path activities that delays to the plan require prioritisation to balance resources and avoid overburdening while also considering supply chain commitments.

When these delays occur, it is important to exercise a continuous improvement mindset in the form of structured problem-solving to understand the root cause of the delay and take action to prevent reoccurrence.

What is the hardest part of your working day?

The most difficult part of this role is reacting to atypical events such as deviations or unplanned equipment downtime events, which require a significant amount of effort to recover from. Events like this are a part of working in a regulated manufacturing environment but can add a significant workload to the team when they occur.

Although these events are difficult at the time, they provide an opportunity to learn from failure and we use this as an opportunity to strengthen our processes going forward through continuous improvement and stop the issue reoccurring.

Do you have any productivity tips that help you through the working day?

One change I have made recently that had a positive impact on productivity was standardising my working day to block out time slots for specific activities that are important but which can often get overlooked due to meetings etc, such as purposeful presence walks, one-to-one team meetings and development training.

The company has also implemented a meeting-free time between certain hours of each day, which really helps with productivity as it frees up time to catch up on workload.

When you first started this job, what were you most surprised to learn was important in the role?

I think the importance of building cross-functional relationships is something I underestimated before starting in this role. It’s easy to just focus on your own team’s success and development, but when operating in a complex multinational environment, this is not always a sustainable approach.

It’s very important to understand other stakeholders’ goals and challenges so you can look for opportunities to create synergy and take advantage of collaboration and knowledge sharing to ensure you are all pulling in the same direction and avoid duplicating work.

I found that without having this understanding, bottlenecks were more frequent and challenged progress and teams’ goals and strategies were often disjointed.

How has this role changed as this sector has grown and evolved?

The industry is beginning to become more competitive in terms of cost pressure and this is creating a burning platform for change in terms of the efficiency at which we operate. There is a greater focus on efficiency and productivity aimed at eliminating waste to drive down the cost of goods.

The role has evolved in line with this evolution to take a proactive approach to productivity through investment in new innovative equipment and technology, as well as leveraging operational excellence principles to become more efficient and play our part in reducing the cost of medicine for patients.

What do you enjoy most about the job?

For me, the most enjoyable part of this role is the coaching aspect through investing time in developing my teams’ skills and competencies and seeing them mature and grow over time to fulfil their full potential.

We have an extremely diverse team in terms of experience and skillset with different strengths, so I work to find opportunities for individuals in their area of strength while collaborating with them to provide coaching and opportunity to close any gaps.

The team have a passion for taking on additional responsibility outside of their day-to-day role and seeing the success of some of the projects delivered at floor level to improve safety, quality and efficiency, and getting the opportunity to give recognition and celebrate success, is a really enjoyable part of the role.

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