Careers and Job Ideas for Pharmaceutical Production Workers

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  • School Subjects: Mathematics, Technical/shop
  • Personal Skills: Following instructions, Mechanical/manipulative
  • Work Environment: Primarily indoors, Primarily one location
  • Minimum Education Level: High school diploma
  • Salary Range: $24,565 to $46,332 to $56,160+
  • Certification or Licensing: None available
  • Outlook: Faster than the average
  • DOT: 559
  • GOE: 08.01.01, 08.03.02, 08.07.01
  • NOC: 9232
  • O*NET-SOC: 51-1011.00, 51-9011.00, 51-9199.99, 53-7064.00


Pharmaceutical production workers manufacture and distribute pharmaceutical products.Pharmaceutical operators work with machines that perform such functions as filling capsules and inspecting the quality and weight of tablets. Pharmaceutical supervisors and managers oversee research and development, production, and sales and promotion workers. There are approximately 291,000 workers employed in the pharmaceutical industry in the United States.


The oldest known written records relating to pharmaceutical preparations come from the ancient Sumerians about 5,000 years ago. Other ancient cultures, such as the Indians and Chinese, used primitive pharmaceutical applications to eradicate evil spirits, which they believed to cause evil in the body. The Babylonians, Assyrians, Greeks, and Egyptians also compounded early pharmaceuticals in hope that they would rid the body of disease (which they believed was caused primarily by sinful thoughts and deeds).

Professions in pharmacy began to be established in the 17th century, after the first major list of drugs and their applications and preparations was compiled. The discoveries of the anesthetics morphine (first used in 1806), ether (1842), and cocaine (1860) were among the first pharmaceutical advancements to significantly benefit humankind. Since then, numerous vaccines have cured sick ness and disease and have helped people live longer, healthier lives.

Hand packers and packagers remove filled cartons from conveyor belts and transport other finished pharmaceutical products to and from shipping departments Industrial machinery mechanics ensure that all machinery is working properly and at optimum production capacity.

Production managers direct workers in the manufacturing field by scheduling projects and deadlines. These employees also oversee factory operations and enforce safety and health regulations, monitor efficiency, and plan work assignments They also direct and schedule assignments for the shipping department, which packs and loads the pharmaceutical products for distribution.


High School

If you’re interested in a job as a production worker, take courses in math and science You should also take courses, such as vo-tech, that will give you some background in machine work and engineering.

Postsecondary Education

Most employers offering production jobs require at least a high school diploma or the equivalent. Certain labor positions also require technical or vocational training. Some pharmaceutical companies offer on-the-job training to nonprofessional workers. Various types of pharmaceutical training are also available in the military. Information about pharmaceutical careers in the armed forces can be obtained by contacting your nearest military recruitment office.

Other Requirements

Pharmaceutical production workers must be alert, dependable, and possess good communication skills, both oral and written. As workers interact with all divisions and levels of employees, strong communication skills promote faster and more accurate production. Production workers must also be physically fit, mentally alert to oversee production lines and processes, and have the temperament to work at sometimes repetitive tasks. Administrative and managerial workers must be decisive leaders with empathy for workers at all levels of education and responsibility.


If your high school has a vocational training program, look into taking a class that prepares you for production work; a local community college may also have such a course. You should consider contacting trade organizations such as the American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education, whose objective is to improve pharmaceutical education programs and student performance. In addition, science-related clubs and social organizations often schedule meetings and professional lectures and offer career guidance as well.


Production workers work for pharmaceutical companies that manufacture prescription and over-the-counter products. These companies include Johnson & Johnson, Merck, and Bristol-Myers Squibb. A small percentage of industry workers are employed with companies that make the biological products that are used by manufacturers in the production of drugs. Approximately 291,000 workers are employed in the pharmaceutical industry in the United States.

New Medicines in Development by Illness/Disease

1 Cancer:682

2. Neurological disorders: 531

3. Infections: 341

4 Cardiovascular disorders 303

5. Psychiatric disorders 190

6. HIV/AIDS: 95

7. Arthritis 88

8. Diabetes:

9. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia 55

10. Asthma 60

Source: Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Pharmaceutical Industry Profile 2009


College-trained applicants often benefit from career services provided by the student services division of their schools. Applicants can also apply directly to pharmaceutical companies or through school contacts with professional organizations. In addition, newspapers and professional trade publications list job opportunities that are offered in each division and level of the industry.


There are many advancement opportunities for pharmaceutical workers. Production workers may advance to managerial positions and learn how to operate more sophisticated machinery. Administrators may become supervisors, executives, sales managers, or marketing executives.

There are always possibilities for advancement for employees who are willing to develop new skills and take on more responsibilities, Many positions, however, require additional, formal training.


Because the pharmaceutical industry is a large field, earnings vary tremendously and depend on the worker’s position, educational background, and amount of work experience. However, some generalizations can be made about certain wages. According to the Career Guide to Industries, which is published by the U.S. Department of Labor, production workers in drug manufacturing averaged approximately $891 per week (or $46,332 annually) in 2006. The wage range for these employees is broad, depending on the size of the firm, the shift to which the worker is assigned, years at the company, and the geographic location of the plant. Overtime compensation is usually equal to time and a half or double time. The Career Guide to Industries also reports the following median hourly earnings for pharmaceutical industry workers in 2006: supervisors/manage chemical equipment operators and tenders, $17.10 ($35,568 annually); inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers, $15.69 ($32,635 annually); mixing and blending machine setters, operators, and tenders of production and operating workers, $27.00 ($56,160 annually); $14.22 ($29,578 annually); and packaging and filling machine operators and tenders, $11.81 ($24,565 annually). All full-time workers, regardless of their work specialty, receive paid vacations, medical and dental insurance, paid sick and personal days, pension plans, and life insurance. Some workers may also be offered profit-sharing, savings plans, and reimbursement for job-related education.


Production workers average 45-hour workweeks and eight hours per shift; at some pharmaceutical firms, however, shifts may run round-the-clock, meaning that some employees work a variety of shifts. Production workers often work in chemicals factories, which are well ventilated and offer good lighting but may be noisy and crowded. These workers may have to package products and load them onto trucks or docks by hand or with forklifts. Machinery operators may stand during much of their shift. Laborers and packagers frequently walk, stand, bend, and lift in the course of their day. They may be required to operate machinery to lift heavy or bulky material. Ampule and vial fillers wear special clothing, such as complete face and body coverings, to maintain sterile conditions. Safety equipment is required for hazardous tasks of all types.

Managers work in office environments that are often modern, neat, and have good lighting and ample workspaces. They often bring work home with them or have late meetings with other staff members.


As the number of people age 65 and over continues to increase, the pharmaceutical industry is expected to grow to accommodate medical needs. In addition, technological developments continue to be pursued in many scientific endeavors, including the creation of new drugs for the treatment of such widespread diseases as AIDS and cancer. The overall employment outlook for workers in the pharmaceutical industry is thus considered very good and is anticipated to continue growing at a strong pace through 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. growth in health-related areas, such as cosmetics, veterinary products, agricultural chemicals, and medicinals and botanicals—which may create additional employment opportunities for pharmaceutical Many pharmaceutical manufacturing companies are investigating production workers.


For more information about the pharmaceutical industry, contact the following organizations:

American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education

One Church Street, Suite 202

Rockville, MD 20850-4184

Tel: 301-738-2160


Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America

950 F Street, NW

Washington, DC 20004-1438

Tel: 202-835-3400

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