It’s a talent sellers’ market in life sciences

Differentiate to compete for skilled labor

Tablet displaying graphs and icons Attracting and retaining talented life sciences workers is now more difficult due to the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years. Couple this factor with the industry’s quickly evolving focus on skills such as data analytics, robotics and AI-driven manufacturing, and the result is short-staffed companies crunched by competition from within and outside the sector. What to do to rise above the fray? Grasp the situation, and differentiate your company from direct competitors as well as from the broader market.

Absorb the reality of current and anticipated staffing numbers Life scientists will continue to be in great demand. The sector is growing, said The McMorrow Reports, due in part to nine years added to life expectancy in the last several decades, technological advances and increased venture capital investments — 53% higher than in the early 2000s — and National Institutes of Health funding.

Employment in life sciences rose by 24% between 2001 and 2018, putting the sector’s job growth rate well ahead of the overall rate of 10%. Biotech research jobs alone have been boosted by 26% since 2013.

Chart: LS talent CFO exchange

Life sciences job openings are projected to reach 37.5% by 2024, as reported by the National Science Foundation. The percentage is higher than in all other science and engineering jobs, including for engineers, and computer and math scientists. Only health care practitioners and technicians come close, at 38.4%.

Understand what is causing the scramble for talent The talent is out there, though some have found top talent to be in lean supply. Securing just the right skills needed for the future is becoming more challenging. To fill your staffing and talent gaps, be clear about the issues your company is up against:

A strong economy is creating more options for job seekers The many opportunities for employment make recruitment and retention challenging. All talent, including highly skilled individuals, is tougher to capture and keep. Even positions that do not necessarily require specialty licenses or certifications, e.g., administrative or clerical, are difficult to keep filled, as movement to higher wage opportunities becomes easier. For small to midsized companies, this is a sticking point, since workers at large firms earned on average 54% more than those in companies of fewer than 100 workers, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures. Salary is a major factor in competition for talent, and while culture, professional development and work-life balance can set opportunities apart, significant disparities in core reward or compensation may be a make-or-break consideration.

Job seekers look beyond traditional incentives Many employers are concerned about the needs and preferences of millennials, who add up to almost half of today’s workforce. Salary is important, but so are the physical environment, culture, flexibility in schedules and working remotely, work/life balance, constant changeups, and fast-tracking advancement opportunities. Hiring is but one challenge and far from a secure hold.

Competition is coming from outside the sector With life sciences evolving into a technological field, companies are up against challengers with no previous relationships to the industry. With life sciences evolving into a technological field — drug discovery platforms based on computation, and remote connections between patient and care — companies are up against challengers with no previous relationships to the industry. Life sciences expertise is sought by Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and other transforming companies. These same entities will continue to snap up tech professionals, data analysts, cyber advisers and those with the skills needed for the future of many industries, including life sciences.

Take action to hire and retain top talent Skills mapping: A modern workforce development approach Strengthen recruitment and retention by integrating business planning with employee evaluation and development. Responsibility for a qualified staff isn’t on just HR. At the hiring stage, be inclusive. “Make sure that you think about who is doing the interviews, so that it’s not only someone from the specific department,” advised Grant Thornton Assistant Managing Principal of Human Capital Services Mike Monahan. “Bring in people from other areas, say, marketing and manufacturing, who have a real passion for the company. Introduce candidates to a wide spectrum of people reflective of your company’s culture.”

Michael Monahan Introduce candidates to a wide spectrum of people reflective of your company’s culture.

-- Michael Monahan, Assistant Managing Principal, Human Capital Services
See Gap to map: Win talent game with skills mapping for more on the process and details about a step-by-step analysis:

Establish an employer brand Build a reputation to appeal to candidates and existing employees. Be active in thought leadership and social media, as well as internal communications. Participate in symposiums, contribute to industry white papers and be public about internships. Culture is key. “Promote your social impact and diversity programs,” Monahan said. “A company that is involved and caring is a priority, particularly to millennials. In recruiting, schedule interviews around an event, such as hosting an office community service outing. Let candidates see how their potential co-workers are encouraged to positively impact the community and that there is more to the experience than simply the obvious issue of compensation.”

Shape an environment that allows for not just diverse people but also diverse thinking and approaches to collaboration. Minimize bureaucracy and hierarchy by promoting opportunities for making connections. Be open to suggestions about physical surroundings. Ensure dialogue among employees at all levels, and interaction across teams and functions. Highlight examples of individual impact. Learning and advancement, openness to initiative and innovation, choices in working remotely and other intangibles are key elements in any rewards system.

Provide valued incentives, monetary and nonmonetary While salary is central, there are other incentives for joining and staying with your company. In the competition for technology expertise, identify candidates willing to leave the tech industry’s additional dollars on the table in exchange for the chance to come up with life-altering drugs for the market and build a transformative company. There’s also the potential for equity.

Other incentives can be offered — a vesting plan of stock options or share purchases, and rewards for finding ways to do things better. Give avenues for changing roles, including advancement. “Create pipelines to move within the company rather than out of it,” suggested Monahan. “Through lattices, matrices or career-pathing, your colleagues can see the opportunities that lay before them, regardless of the role they currently hold.”

Be generous about professional development Nurture interests and drive engagement through internal programs and information about educational opportunities.

Conversations with leaders and others in the same or different functions foster a team mentality and a broader view of the company, and can prompt ideas and lead to beneficial change. Along with mentorships and peer-to-peer exchanges, establish regular opportunities for frank discussions among colleagues. Conversations with leaders and others in the same or different functions foster a team mentality and a broader view of the company, and can prompt ideas and lead to beneficial change.

To addition, tailor training programs to fill in skills gaps.

Participate in partnerships and policy-making Widen your recruitment and enrichment reach by affiliating with local universities, industry associations and think-tanks. Extend your physical range by investigating the advantages of shared workspaces such as WeWork. Going further afield in a cross-town or -country facility sharing arrangement opens possibilities for employees in disparate geographic locations.

Collaborate to raise a healthy STEM workforce. Expand public-private partnerships with other companies and academic institutions. Work with schools to provide K–12 lab experiences and sponsor science fairs. Stay informed about governmental policies and submit insights to bring U.S. STEM education up to current standards.

As with any transforming business culture in a challenging environment, your life sciences company should be intentional, sincere and creative in responding to the need to win the “war” for talent.

Contacts Lisa WalkushLisa Walkush
National Sector Leader, Life Sciences
T +1 215 814 4000

Lisa WalkushMichael Monahan
Assistant Managing Principal, Human Capital Services
T +1 212 542 9860