Less pharmacies, more specialists. Particularly needed: successors

The number of pharmacies is decreasing, but the number of specialists needed is growing. At least this is what many pharmacists believe. One third believes that if a job is offered, they would have a no more than one applicant - whether a pharmacist, PTA or PCA. Another third of all pharmacy owners expects no or only one interested party to be successor, according to the current pharmacy climate index of the ABDA.

Particularly needed: successors

“Nationwide, the demand for skilled workers is high, but it varies greatly from region to region,” explains Dr. Ursula Sellerberg, pharmacist and deputy ABDA press spokesperson. “Many pharmacists want to live close to the city where they studied and many young people prefer cities as places to live. As a result, the labour market situation is different than in isolated rural areas.”

“The lack of skilled workers is stronger in rural areas than in cities, especially in those where more female graduates are looking for jobs due to existing universities and/or PTA schools”, says Tanja Kratt, board member of the pharmacy union ADEXA.

No improvements in sight

There is little prospect of any change for the better for the pharmacy owners. The APOkix survey, a pharmacy business cycle index carried out by the Institut für Handelsforschung (IFH) in Cologne, Germany, in 2018, showed that nine out of ten respondents believed that it will be even more difficult to find suitable employees in the future.

In a supplementary APOkix monthly survey carried out in May 2019, every second pharmacy foresaw difficulties in finding a successor, yet at least every third pharmacy operator will retire within the next five years. The number of pharmacies is already at a historic low with 23.4 pharmacies per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the Pharmacy Economic Report of the German Pharmacists' Association (DAV) for the year 2018.

More employees per pharmacy

Yet the demand for employees is constantly growing. While there were just under six people working in a pharmacy during the mid-90s, today the average is 7.5. In the same period, the number of PTAs in pharmacies has doubled according to the Federal Association PTA (BVpta). Also, the number of pharmacists in public pharmacies will grow by 950 to over 52,000 within one year, from 2017 to 2018.

The increasing demand for PTAs and PCAs is offset by a stagnating number of training places. Between 2015 and 2017 it fell marginally from 2117 to 2076 (PTA) and from 3724 to 3626 (PCA). In contrast, the number of licenses for pharmacists has been rising steadily for years, just as the number of first-year students.

Strong demand for PTA and PCA

The bottom line is: The gap between training and the number of employees or demand is beginning to widen with regard to the PTAs and PCAs. There is almost a sufficient number of specialists leaving the universities with the respective certifications, but there is a large regional variation in distribution and the graduates are more and more reluctant to become successors.

Given the entrepreneurial risk and the high personal commitment of self-employed pharmacists, ABDA supports young people with a career website and various information campaigns. The association stresses the attractive aspects of the profession which still apply, such as independence, team responsibility and diversity of tasks.

However, the union ADEXA laments low salaries and poor promotion prospects for employed professionals. There is a heated debate on whether to extend the PTA training to include further skills that were previously reserved for those who were certified. Kratt says, “Even when training PCAs, which would ease the burden on pharmaceutical colleagues in pharmacies and thus alleviate the shortage of skilled workers, pharmacy owners are missing out on opportunities if they oppose the extended training programmes.”