The life science industry is undergoing a paradigm shift with regard to how work is done. The exponential growth of technology in the industry leads to a constant increase in the level of education and training required to work in the field. Companies are looking for candidates that are continuously improving their skill set. There is a high demand for qualified STEM professionals and the industry has low unemployment. This means that companies really have to fight it out to get best in class talent and go the extra mile to attract it.

Pharma and biotech companies predominantly rely on the launch of new products to remain competitive in the industry. Overall, there is a heavy emphasis on finding Research and Development talent at the start of the pipeline to trigger drug discovery, but the talent required to execute development, manufacturing and finally sell the product is just as hard to find. Due to the heavy upfront investment in technology and then in trying to acquire the highly trained people who oversee it, companies start to see the costs adding up. According to an article by Forbes, “it takes 12 years and more than $2.4 billion to bring the average new drug to market,” which is a huge investment.

Naturally, cutting costs becomes extremely important to the success of companies in the industry. According to a report by McKinsey, “There is no let-up in announcements of austerity plans affecting pharmaceuticals, and many markets are already implementing short- and long term measures to reduce spending. These austerity plans change the rules of the game, increasing local and national hurdles to access, raising the bar on value definition and demonstration, and requiring companies to develop a more granular understanding. At the same time, launches are becoming smaller and more competitive.”

The Future of Work for Pharma and Biotech Companies

Technology is permeating every aspect of how companies in the life science industry do work. According to a report by Deloitte, the life science industry is seeing the following trends:

With technology transforming the way work is done in this sector, companies are throwing out the old rules and adopting new ones. They must keep their eye on both long term and short term talent acquisition goals for their organization.

Long term goals involve the company building up its own reputation as an employer and establishing a talent supply chain based on its own strategies. There are however, times when short term fixes must be considered. It could be that a company’s talent sourcing pipeline is falling short because resources with highly technical skills are required at scale, on a project-basis or in remote areas. It could also be that a company is too small to undertake such a huge investment in the first place, and needs assistance with finding the right talent in a time crunch. In such cases – a contingent staffing supplier can be the solution.

According to the same Deloitte report mentioned previously, “In the United States, 40 percent of the workforce is already contingent, and more than half of millennials are freelancers. Deep specialization can be accessed, wherever it is located, and deployed, wherever it is needed, anywhere in the world.” With the overall trend in the industry being that there is an increase in the number of contingent hires and job roles augmented by technology, it is critical for companies to invest in their talent supply relationships.

Long Term Talent Acquisition Strategies

In trying to achieve their long term goals, companies in the life sciences are investing time, money and resources to develop sourcing strategies to establish a smooth talent acquisition pipeline. Attempting to develop this can result in the following costs significantly affecting the company’s bottomline:

Educating HR and Procurement

Pharma and Biotech companies must invest in developing the technical understanding of their HR and Procurement departments. With the evolution in operational dynamics, it becomes important for HR professionals in the life science industry to determine what skills are vital to a role. They must not only be subject matter experts but also be well-versed with the latest in talent acquisition strategies and technology. This is a big investment in time and training for the company. Individuals hired to do this must be able to both identify talent with the right skills and also determine the best way to target it.

Competitive Salaries and Benefits

The hiring practice in the life science industry has been to target individuals with ‘academic’ backgrounds and drawing them in with ‘industry’ salaries. “There’s a lot of competition in the private sector for highly trained STEM workers, especially PhDs, which drives down the unemployment rate and drives high salaries,” says labor economist Michael Roach of Cornell University in an article for The Scientist . A study from the same article illustrates the difference companies must make up for in their salary offer to prospective candidates:

Developing an Employer Brand

Constructing an employer brand as a company that not only pays well but is also invested in the future of its employees and their advancement is an increasing trend in the industry. This includes everything from campus recruitment programs, internal development programs, and even investment in diversity and gender equality programs. “In a Harris survey commissioned by Glassdoor, company cost (for building an employer brand) varied by company size, averaging $129,000. Those with 1-499 employees spent $6,300, 500-3499 employees spent $81,400, and those above 3500+ spent $335,900.” This does not factor in the cost of hiring personnel, training or ramp times. The cost of developing an employer brand is significant, but all this said, employer brand is essentially a soft metric that is very difficult to quantify and measure accurately, especially in the short term.

Ensuring Employee Engagement

Despite striving for all this in the long term, a study published by SIA found, “one-third of staff working within the life sciences industry are disengaged in their jobs and at risk of leaving in the next 12 months.” This means that much of the talent in this industry feels it has not been nurtured, making retention a challenge. The same article goes on to quote Global Recruitment Director Richard Thomas of Proclinical as saying, “The findings support our own observations that the importance of creating an inclusive company culture, internal opportunities for career growth and regular recognition cannot be underestimated when planning strategies for the attraction and retention of leading life sciences talent.”

Companies looking to hire the best of the best also need to be known for their progressive history, great company culture and actively managing their employer brand. This high degree of investment in tandem with effective execution of these strategies, is likely to have a big pay off in the long run but might still not be enough when a company is faced with an immediate requirement.

The life sciences industry is one with an extremely complex talent supply chain. There are still times when a company is unable to directly source highly skilled talent due to the competitive nature of the industry, time or project-based constraints. From R&D, drug discovery, manufacturing, FDA compliance to sales, high quality candidates are required every step of the way. The impact of not being able to staff every position with the best talent can have a direct effect on the company’s output and even it’s ability to follow FDA compliance.

Immediate Fix: Working with a Supplier to Leverage the Contingent Workforce

A good staffing supplier is able to give companies the benefit of dealing with their immediate requirements or limited talent acquisition budget by leveraging the attributes of contingent workforce staffing. When looking for life science talent staffing suppliers, pharma and biotech companies must approach them as partners who can help them implement a robust and exhaustive talent supply chain. They can help companies avoid an impact to the top line growth due to a of the lack of the right resources and bolster their bottom line by helping them become more agile on the talent discovery front. There are several advantages that having a strong supply base can provide to a company:

Engaging Contingent Hires

Suppliers with an end-to-end talent management model are able to take on the overall search, screening, vetting, hiring and engagement of candidates. Their impact can be considered twofold: they save on cost of recruitment prior to hiring and can also reduce cost of employee engagement by ensuring good performance and skills development post-hire.

Scalability and Flexibility

The contractual nature of hires means that a staffing supplier can submit candidates to the company based on their immediate demand to ensure that projects are underway quickly and efficiently.

An understanding of technical recruitment

A staffing supplier that has subject matter experts with a thorough understanding of the technical skills required to execute a particular job description can prove to be highly advantageous business partner. Having subject matter experts with recruitment expertise take on the task of searching, vetting and interviewing candidates accelerates the hiring process for companies. By going with a staffing supplier, companies are able to save on the cost of hiring technical recruiters internally.

Access to a pre-vetted pool of candidates

Staffing suppliers spend a lot of time and money to discover and categorize talent. If they specialize in contingent staffing, they go even further and build lasting relationships with talent who trust them to place them in roles that align with their career objectives. This is of great value when a company is faced with making a quick hire as suppliers are constantly in contact with candidates looking for their next engagement.

Creating access to passive talent

A supplier that is invested in building technology to create out of the box hiring solutions should be at the top of a company’s supplier list. Building technology platforms like iEndorseU that tap into a passive pool of STEM candidates by incentivizing paid referrals is a sign that the supplier is forward-thinking. Not only is such a supplier invested in trying to tap into the industry’s passive talent pool, but they are making use of technology to engage with talent that inherently appreciates it.

Wider coverage

Much of the hiring in this industry is has a geographic focus. According to Pharma Voice, “Another ongoing challenge to talent acquisition remains the clustering of life sciences organizations in the Mid-Atlantic/Northeast corridor, the Central Midwest, and the Pacific coast. Employers continuously compete for top talent in these geographic hotbeds.” Recruiting highly technical talent in a specific area can limit the candidate pool being considered by the company. A staffing supplier with a national presence can help by sourcing people with the right skill set at a national level and then placing them locally.

Testing talent on the job

It is standard practice for companies in the industry to take employees on as contingent workers and later offer them full time roles based on their performance. Employees that are engaged by the staffing supplier post-hire are more likely to perform well, as the supplier is tasked with keeping track of their performance analytics and at times even coaching them while on the job. This is of advantage to both the company and the candidate. Once a contingent hire has worked within the company and proven to be a good cultural fit, the company has the option to either extend their contract or offer them full time work. If there is no further need for the employee’s skills, the company can simply choose to let them go when the contract duration is over.

Companies operating in the pharma and biotech industries not only have to contend with the rapid technological changes that occur in their industry but also have to keep up with trying to find talent that has the correct know-how to execute the discovery, manufacturing and delivery of drugs. While building an employer brand can lead to a stable supply of  talent for the company in the long run, companies that are smaller, faced with a time crunch or have special needs can turn to an experienced technical life sciences talent supplier to meet immediate needs.

Sailee Sarangdhar

Sailee Sarangdhar

Sailee Sarangdhar is a creative and data-driven Senior Content Manager with a passion for writing high-impact copy. She is deeply interested in the future of work and how technology can be leveraged to improve current recruitment practices.



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