addressing the talent crisis in life sciences - a battle on two fronts

April 7, 2015 Tania De Decker

After the dot-com bubble burst, Life Sciences became the new hot area for venture capitalists to pour money into, having enjoyed years of strong growth and positive market trends. However, today this sector has come to the point where it finds itself in a constant struggle to break through and create the next wave.

Many of the industry’s biggest players are feeling the pinch of global economic slowdown, regulatory pressures and patent cliffs, but potentially the darkest cloud over the sector today, keeping every business leader awake at night, is a looming talent crisis.

talent crisis comes as no surprise

Not long ago talent crisis was still seen by many non-HR leaders as nothing more than a buzzword created by the HR community to cry for more budget and resources. With the issue hampering productivity and imperiling competitiveness, it has now firmly earned its place on the boardroom agenda. Main drivers behind this are an aging workforce, a shortage of emerging qualified talent and their combined impact on the Life Sciences business.

JLL’s research estimates that in the next five years 2 million middle managers, technical experts and senior executives currently working in the industry are set to retire, leaving an approximately equal number of positions unfilled across organizations of all sizes. Considering talented individuals in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields are the #1 resource the Life Sciences industry relies on, the number of STEM grads in developed economies each year simply won’t be able to fill the big gap left by the graying workforce, not to mention going beyond the break-even point to drive business growth.

competition for STEM talent reaches beyond the sector

The Life Sciences isn’t the only industry fighting for STEM skills. Established financial services, engineering and chemical companies are coveting the same talent pool. And on top of that are alluring technology giants, like Google, who have a slight advantage over other players vying for top STEM talent, mostly benefiting from their overall sector attractiveness.

Long story short, without having a strategic talent management plan in place, it’s only a matter of time before most Life Sciences businesses find themselves paralyzed by the staggering scale of brain drain and unmet demand. 

building a brighter future together

When it comes to addressing the STEM talent shortage, we’re glad to see a series of countermeasures being taken to boost young people’s interest in STEM subjects and their awareness of STEM career options. In the US, a $240 million investment has been recently announced by the Government, all of which will be directed toward encouraging students to pursue STEM education. The Life Sciences industry as a whole has also joined the cause over the past years, sponsoring a wealth of STEM stimulation programs from universities all the way through to elementary and secondary schools. Driving this strong advocacy group are well-known names in the industry, such as Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline, Eli Lilly, Baxter, GE Healthcare and more.

winning STEM talent despite limited resources

Investing in the future is great. But before you can reap the benefits, what do you need to do to secure a solid stream of brilliant minds for your business right now despite limited resources? Our advice is to fully understand and deliver what your targeted talent truly wants.

When was the last time your company undertook a comprehensive check on your employer brand? Do you know that STEM talent values “a creative and dynamic work environment” above all other employer attributes? How about their thoughts on work-life balance? And their most preferred communication channels? These are just a few of the questions every HR leader needs to have answers for, before mapping out a holistic employer brand strategy to help your company gain a competitive edge and capture the most wanted talent. By doing so, only then will we understand that what makes Google a top talent magnet is not the ping pong table or free lunches.

putting critical talent on the fast track

The talent crisis is a battle on two fronts. Life Sciences as a sector is losing a large number of experienced workers, particularly at the most senior levels. Replacing essential leadership positions becomes more important than ever. One measure we suggest HR leaders take is fast-tracking your critical talent. Identify key roles in the business, differentiate the high-potentials, and offer them an accelerated career path which takes them from onboarding to leader successors in almost no time. At the same time understand the backgrounds, unique motivators, behaviors and aptitude that defines this top talent – and use this information to develop a data-driven sourcing and recruitment approach to build the talent pipeline. When executed well, not only does this recruitment and succession plan contribute to a smooth transition within the organization, it also helps your business engage and retain the best and brightest.

To end on a positive note, a talent crisis doesn’t have to impact your business as long as you know how to prepare with the right counter-strategy to ride through it. What is a crisis for others to survive could surprisingly be the perfect opportunity for your business to create new talent acquisition and HR models that bring your products to market faster than your competitors.

About the Author

Tania  De Decker

As Senior Vice President - EMEA for Randstad's Global Client Solutions, Tania works with Fortune 500 companies to develop and implement processes that improve and drive recruitment and retention solutions. Furthermore she is responsible for design and implementing customer strategies on a global level and liaise with all local operating companies belonging to the Randstad Group.

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