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Better perks and benefits on offer to entice recruits into the community

By Debbie Andalo

In the current sluggish recruitment climate, pharmacy employers have to offer attractive employee benefit packages to recruit pharmacists. Debbie Andalo investigates and discovers that it is not just financial perks that attract them

See Recruitment review

 

High street chains are targeting undergraduate pharmacy students in the hope that they can win their loyalty when they look to take their first step on the career ladder. They are increasing their profile in pharmacy schools so that they become the employer of choice when students are searching for their first preregistration post.

The measures come as pharmacy companies admit that the problems with recruitment across the sector have remained during the past 12 months. And, despite the changing role of the profession on the high street, there is little optimism that the climate will change in the year ahead.

Niki Coppard, head of HR operations at Lloydspharmacy, says: “It’s been an ongoing real challenge to try [to] find pharmacists. Competition has been hotting up. There is no indication that there is enough supply to meet demand. Our experience, in fact, shows the opposite. It’s a bit of a shortage occupation and we have had to supply from overseas.”

Expansion

The sluggish current recruitment climate has, however, not deterred company expansion plans across community pharmacy. Instead, it has brought pockets of new employment opportunities. Boots UK reveals that, in the next 12 months, it expects to recruit and train a “substantial number” of those graduating from pharmacy schools as it opens more stores and acquires other pharmacies. In the past 12 months, it recruited more than 1,600 graduates and pharmacists across the UK.

Supermarket chain Asda has opened 30 new pharmacies in the past year, mainly on 100-hour contracts, which has created new employment opportunities because each pharmacy employs one full-time and two part-time pharmacists.

Asda’s superintendent pharmacist, John Evans, says: “I think recruitment is getting a bit better. We have found that there is a move from people working with us as locums to taking on full-time posts. They like what they see and full-time role offers them more certainty and they enjoy the predictability of employment.”

But the locum to permanent switch is not happening everywhere. Ms Coppard says: “We find that there are problems with the number of pharmacists who prefer to locum.”

She commented: “We have been looking at the reasons behind that and what we have discovered is that the most common cause is the desire to work flexibly. So we, as a company, are looking at how we can be more flexible and looking at giving a greater number of flexible options, such as term-time contracts, as well as trying to persuade them to understand the benefits of employee status.”

But, despite these obstacles, the company still reports it has “expanded” the number of employed pharmacists overall in the business in the past year.

The Co-operative Pharmacy says it is constantly looking for new opportunities to relocate or refit stores in order to expand pharmacy, although Vicky Moore, its recruitment manager, admits there are still geographical areas that are difficult to recruit to.

These districts tend to be away from large cities and pharmacy schools. She says Norfolk and Cumbria present particular challenges and admits that to get pharmacists to relocate is a real challenge.

One way the organisation helps to overcome this problem is by offering tailor-made relocation packages as part of its company benefits. “We may pay for moving costs or contribute towards a deposit and rent to get somebody settled. The whole package will depend on an individual person’s needs, although we do have a ceiling,” she says. It has also been relying on recruitment agencies to help fill gaps as well, she reveals.

It is also looking at new ways to reach its target audience. In the future, the Co-operative Pharmacy expects to make much more use of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter and using the internet more alongside traditional recruitment avenues.

Employee benefit packages

Employee benefit packages are traditionally used to entice staff and boost indirect income. Asda, for example, estimates its pharmacy package as a whole is worth around £5,000 a year while Lloydspharmacy reckons its employee benefits have a price tag of up to £13,000 annually.

Independent pharmacy membership group Numark recently launched its membership benefits package called Choices, boasting it was the first pharmacy membership organisation to offer such a deal. At its launch, Numark managing director Tony Mottram said: “We all know that many large employers provide benefit packages and, as a group that is almost as big as Boots, we are able to provide a very attractive programme. We are the first pharmacy membership organisation to offer a programme like this.”

A snapshot survey of pharmacist benefit packages currently on offer reveal pharmacists can expect to have at least 21 days annual leave and a variety of discounts from in-store offers (eg, Boots provides a 22.5 per cent discount on all its own-brand products) to travel offers, theatre tickets and gym memberships.

Long-service awards are also common and, although pensions are still on offer, their terms are varied. Boots UK, for example, offers a flexible pension while the deal from Lloydspharmacy is based on a defined contributions scheme with life assurance.

Bonuses

It is common to see annual bonuses as part of a benefits package. Asda promises a staff bonus that is based on a store’s performance and it also offers shares in its parent company, Wal-Mart, at a reduced price.

Lloydspharmacy promises its pharmacists an annual bonus of up to £6,000, which is based on an individual’s performance, as well as a pharmacy’s performance. Pharmacists who agree to take on a tutor role are also eligible for another bonus of up to a maximum £2,000.

It also runs a wider incentive scheme that targets the whole pharmacy team. If targets are met then staff are rewarded with high street gift vouchers, although the value depends on which targets are achieved.

Boots UK also has a well established discretionary bonus scheme for its pharmacists, which can be as much as 40 per cent of salary. It is linked to levels of customer care, sales and company profit.

Pharmacists who work for the Co-operative Pharmacy are Co-operative members as well as employees, which means they are automatically entitled to a share of the organisation’s profits.

Other perks

Other common financial perks include access to interest free loans. The amount on offer varies from employer to employer. Lloydspharmacy, for example, offers £3,000 interest free, and Boots UK has a variety of company and car loans for its employees to choose from. It is also common for companies to help with private health insurance. The Co-operative Pharmacy offers a 35 per cent BUPA discount to its pharmacists and there are private health insurance deals from Boots UK and Lloydspharmacy.

The competitive recruitment market is also influencing what the package of benefits companies are currently offering. Lloydspharmacy will pay an employee pharmacist a £1,000 “bounty payment” for recommending a colleague. The payment is made if the colleague joins the workforce and passes the six-month probation. Ms Coppard says that the bounty is useful in the current climate.

CPD support for employees

There is a trend to include support for continuing professional development as part of in-house benefits for pharmacists. This is increasingly becoming an important element of the deal.

Niki Coppard, head of HR operations at Lloydspharmacy, says: “We find that when we start to look at what [benefits] a pharmacist looks for, you have to get the financial package right. But it’s the package of support that goes with it which [makes it attractive]. I’m talking about things like their continuing professional development and their career development. So those are the areas where we are expanding because that is what pharmacists tell us they are looking for.” Lloydspharmacy funds two days’ CPD a year.

Supporting CPD also has benefits for the company as it negotiates more contracts with commissioners. She says: “We are, for example, starting to become a leader in the provision of mental health trust services in pharmacy. We provide the dispensing services for a primary care trust to this patient group. We go out and deliver the medicines to patients in their homes or supported housing if that is where they are living. It’s a very specialised service.”

Asda also offers all its pharmacists four weeks’ training and induction as well as professional conferences for its pharmacists. Supporting professional development, including expanding clinical skills, is crucial to the success of its pharmacies, according to its superintendent pharmacist John Evans.

Some primary care trusts will expect Asda  to “sign off” between 10 and 15 clinical pharmacy-based services in return for agreeing a 100-hour pharmacy contract.

“We want to provide any services which the primary care trust wants us to provide because that is the future of pharmacy,” he admits.

Professional fees

One of the most significant benefits of being an employee pharmacist of one of the high street chains is that the registration and membership fee to the Royal Pharmaceutical will be paid for by the employer. Independent community pharmacists, on the other hand, even those who are members of organisations like Numark, have had to foot the bill themselves.

But there is now a question mark over the future of what has historically been seen as a key staff benefit, following the decision to separate the Society and replace it with a new professional body and transfer its regulatory functions to the General Pharmaceutical Council.

The issue facing pharmacist employers is that, although professional registration with the GPhC will be compulsory if a pharmacist wishes to practise, membership of the professional body will be voluntary.

The Society separation has triggered a debate about who in future should be responsible for paying for the GPhC and professional body fees. At the moment, just months before the two new bodies come into being, there appears to be little consensus.

There is widespread support for the professional body, but there appears to be little support from pharmacy chains and supermarkets that they should foot their employees’ professional body membership bill — at least not in the long term.

Mr Evans was reluctant to commit beyond the first three months. He says: We asked our pharmacists if they intended to join the new professional body and they said yes they would, if we paid the fees. If they had to pay the fees themselves they said they would not join.

He added: “I think the professional body has to prove that it is worth the money. If [it] can’t provide a value which is recognised and wanted by pharmacists then why should they join? What the [new body] has to do is prove that it is worth it. If it does that, then people will join. We can’t afford to throw money away on something which people don’t want to do. I would rather use that money on better development for our pharmacists.”

Ms Moore (from the Co-operative) says that the company has agreed to pay the GPhC registration fees for pharmacists and technicians and said it has agreed to “support” the new body but refused to make any other commitment. She says: “We will support the new professional body and support colleagues who are members but we haven’t yet made a final decision about fees.”

She says that one of the reasons for the uncertainty over payment of the professional body fees in the future is because there is an awful lack of clarity about what it will offer that is different from the GPhC.

She added that, at the moment, it is difficult for pharmacists to understand what from the old Society will go to the new body and what they will get or can expect for their money.

Professional expectations of the new body are high, but they are also expecting something different from that currently offered by the Society. She says: “We would expect the [new body] to be far more proactive about building the pharmacy industry and the profession to where it should be in the healthcare community. We expect it to lobby for the role of pharmacy and to be much more influential.

“[Perhaps] not necessarily like a trade union, but to be more proactive about what the profession should look like and its development. [It should be] more akin to a proactive body like the British Medical Association, which has a voice. It really builds up the status of doctors, At the moment, we haven’t quite got that for pharmacists.”

If the new professional body can show that it can provide its members with good value for money, then it could be that its fees will become a permanent feature of the benefits packages on offer in the future.

The NPA says the new professional body, like the NPA, will have an ongoing role to prove to its members that it presents them with value for money. Sukhjit Grewal, head of education and training at the NPA, says: “Because membership of the [professional body] is voluntary, it’s going to be about judging the value of the service and that’s a way of making sure that the body is in tune with its members. The general view from our members is that they will pay for the first year of membership, but that is not universal.”

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 11015760

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