Encouraging workers to take courses and keep up with training is an important aspect of retaining staff

Auckland business Douglas Pharmaceuticals, founded in 1967 by managing director Sir Graeme Douglas, is one of the fastest-growing pharmaceutical development and manufacturing companies in the Pacific area.

The Henderson-based company's export turnover has grown to $85 million from 15 products which are sold in 45 countries. Douglas Pharmaceuticals earns $57 million of domestic revenue and employs 460 people, responsible for such well known brands as Clinicians, SunSense, Silvasta, Avene and Oratane.

Group human resources manager Heather Jones oversees the development of the career needs of the organisation's Henderson staff as well as a plant in Fiji. The pharmaceutical company's staff ranges from naturopaths to scientists to manufacturing workers.

"Career development for the Douglas organisation is continually evolving as the business undergoes change to remain competitive," Jones says. "So, as with the employees' personal career development, it is a journey for the company." With such a large staff and annual turnover of 13 per cent, Jones hires 50 to 60 people every year. Staff retention is therefore a key matter for the business and Douglas has just integrated its training development programmes to achieve more focus on talent management and succession planning.


"We refocused on training in 2006 when we hired a formal trainer for our manufacturing facility," Jones says.

"Since then we have structured our training predominantly in this facility and more recently have taken the integrated approach across the company." Jones says.

Career development is a priority in a bid to encourage retention and succession, engagement, innovation, diversification and crucially, agility, the ability to change to remain competitive.

"Career development at Douglas should be based on providing all staff with the opportunity to help them realise their career aspirations and that journey may transgress multiple companies or several types of career," Jones says. Douglas Pharmaceuticals is using a range of training systems, including online and self-directed workshops, always making sure it retains a Kiwi flavour to the training programmes. "Training and development is very expensive but organisations do have to commit to it if they want to retain staff."

It's a two way street. "The company can provide training and development opportunities but the individual needs to bring personal drive or commitment to that development."

"I think there's quite a lot of confusion around career development," says Jones. "People don't realise that they have to have a reasonably good idea themselves about their own career development." As part of the training there is an online programme which staff complete both in the workplace and in their own time. Douglas Pharmaceuticals uses Kiwi-based provider Populus Training, which will also handle on-site workshops.

Staff have 50 courses to choose from online.

They sit down with their managers at personal performance meetings and work out which courses to do to fill any development gaps.

The company likes each staff member to do two courses a year but they can do more.

"It is all very dependent on the employee ... on-the-job training, classroom-directed training and online learning."

Like most companies, Douglas cannot necessarily provide the promotion when a staff member wants it no matter how well they are mastering their career development.

Positions are advertised both internally and externally. "There has to be a happy mix of internal and external appointments," says Jones.

"Our policy is we have to go out and hire the best for a given role."

Sir Graeme Douglas has always built the business with an emphasis on learning on the job. With this in mind, the large company brings together a cross-section of staff regularly to work on team projects in a bid to foster experiential learning across departments.

"It helps a person adapt to change, it's about constantly growing yourself," says Jones, who herself is working on a project at present.

In line with the recruitment policies of other large New Zealand employers, Douglas Pharmaceuticals, which already offers internships, is now looking at creating a formal graduate programme next year.

With a proper graduate programme, Douglas would be able to offer opportunities for more than three or six-month periods, perhaps one year or two.

"We have been researching it ourselves, talking to other organisations, also external experts in the area," says Jones.

"We could take a certain number of graduates every year, offer them a fixed period of time and then if a permanent role came up in their area, would take them on as permanent staff."

With an ageing workforce, the pharmaceutical company wants to ensure it has a steady stream of new people starting at the business.