Behind the counter at Central Drug, there is no time for pause.
A radio plays in the background, but despite its volume it is almost unnoticeable by the pharmacy technicians. There’s too much to do.
Even with a full staff of techs, there are too many phones to answer and too many prescriptions to fill, and the staffing situation at Central Drug is about to change for the worse.
In October, pharmacy tech Kathleen Guin will leave Victoria-based Central Drug so that she can find employment with better benefits, and work at the pharmacy will become all the more hectic as it joins the ranks of pharmacies across the nation that are struggling to fill positions.
The labor shortage has come for pharmacies, and drug stores are finding it difficult to fill vacant positions that are vital for operation.
Nearly 80% of pharmacies reported difficulties in filling open positions, according to a National Community Pharmacy Association survey. Pharmacy technicians are particularly difficult to find. Pharmacist Steve Branch, owner of Central Drug, said there are barriers of entry in place for new pharmacy techs to enter the workforce.
Work is being done to help remedy the problem, Guin said.
Hiring at pharmacies has become so difficult in the U.S. that 88.7% of pharmacies say they are struggling to find pharmacy technicians and 58.6% reported difficulty in finding front end staff like clerks, according to the NCPA survey.
“It’s crazy because you’d think we’d have a lot of (pharmacy technicians), but we have more pharmacists than techs,” Guin said.
Pharmacy technicians need to have a strong combination of people and clerical skills, and they must be well-versed in critical thinking, math and typing, Branch said. Those skills alone will not get a technician’s foot in the door, though, as they must also pass a certification exam, which can require considerable self-education or enrollment at an education institute.
“That’s a barrier to some of these technicians,” Branch said.
In 2020, the average wage for pharmacy technicians was $16 an hour and $11.90 an hour for clerks.
According to the NCPA survey, 72.1% of pharmacies are considering increasing wages, 56.8% are considering increasing employee hours and 20.7% are considering offering better benefits in order to retain staff.
Guin is teaching 16 students in an eight-week pharmacy technician course at Victoria College to prepare them for their exam.
“You don’t actually have to take the course to take the exam,” she said. “It’s something you can do to get yourself more acquainted with the pharmacy to see if it’s something you actually want to do before jumping in.”
Many students will attain a pharmacy technician in training license, which will allow them to be hired at a pharmacy, Guin said. Students then have two years to attain a full license while they receive on-the-job training.
Guin was hired this way, she said.
Scholarships are available for the course, Guin said.
One of the more difficult barriers for people looking to become pharmacy technicians has been taking the exam, Guin said.
The certification exam must be administered by a test proctor, and in the past that has meant traveling to a city like Corpus Christi, Austin or Houston, Guin said. Now, however, Victoria College is allowing the exam to be taken here in Victoria.
Guin felt that another barrier of entry into the career field is that people simply do not know about the job or the steps they must take to become a pharmacy tech.
“It’s a trade that we need,” Guin said. “People need to know that they can get it. It’s pretty easy to get your tech in training license.”