Turkey’s Talent Hope

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With its current turbulent economic and political climate, Turkey is betting its future prosperity on 2 key aspects – its young talent pool and its location as an intersection between the West and the East.

Hakan Yurdakul, head of economy monitoring and coordination at the Presidency Office is bullish, “The Turkish economy will continue expanding by leveraging two of its most crucial assets: location and human resources”

Its talent pool is seen as a “crucial asset” due to its size, age and education levels. With 82 million people, Turkey is the 19th most populous country in the world and the nation has a median age of just 30.2 – much younger than almost all of Europe. The state is also investing heavily in educating this young population; of total government expenditure, 13 percent is allocated to education, of which higher education spending accounts for 35 percent. Moreover, total gross enrolment in Turkish higher education has reached 95 percent.

In the Pharma sector there are some encouraging signs that this talent pool will reap dividends but also an understanding that a skills shortage exists at the highly technical end.

Fikret Baltaoğlu, the general manager of French dermo-cosmetic specialists, Laboratoires Expanscience, says that he is “aiming to solidify Turkey as a key affiliate for Expanscience globally: not only as an export hub for the region but also as a source for high-level talent to our overseas operations. And, Renan Ozyerli, managing director of MSD Turkey adds, “The inherent challenges of Turkey’s healthcare system combined with the entrepreneurial mindset of Turkish employees makes us a preferred international talent pool within the organization. For example, my predecessor moved on to a job at the global level for MSD.”

Local companies are also pushing the Turkish talent potential globally, Nobel has established successful affiliates in over 20 CIS and Central Asian countries “we first started operations in Uzbekistan before moving to Kazakhstan and further expanding to other countries,” notes the company’s chairman, Hasan Ulusoy. He continues “This strategy worked because we took professionals from Turkey, trained them at our headquarters before setting them up in countries abroad, where they have built up successful and profitable operations over the past 16 years.”

However, there is a real gap in high end skills that needs to be bridged. Though the country’s overall technological capabilities have increased, a knowledge gap has appeared in sectors such as BioTech and R&D. Turkish pharma companies are scaling the value chain but sourcing staff able to work within these highly specialized fields is proving a challenge “finding the right talent is a major problem in the country”, explains Ersin Erfa, general manager of Centurion, which recently set up one of the country’s largest biotechnology plants in Ankara and which has ambitious plans to expand into plasma products, orphan drugs, and generic injectables over the coming years.

To bridge this knowledge gap, Centurion is drawing on its international connections. As Erfa notes, “we are able to use our international partners’ expert knowledge of R&D… for example, we are working with our industry partners in Argentina as well as with an Argentinian University which helps train our employees in this area.”

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