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talent acquisition evolution: UCB transforms to a skills-based organization.

'We have an extraordinary confluence of uncertainty'

That’s how Jonathan Berlan, global head of Candidate Experience for biopharmaceutical company UCB, describes the current talent landscape.

A life sciences professional in a hair covering and goggles completes her work while smiling.The reason? This Belgium-based company, which develops solutions that improve the lives of people who have neurological and autoimmune conditions, faces a number of interconnected challenges that are common among many life sciences companies. These include finding talent with the necessary skills, retaining top performers, staying competitive with market rates and dealing with the lack of fresh talent entering the industry, further limiting its ability to acquire top talent.

Rather than be intimidated, Jonathan and UCB’s award-winning talent acquisition team embrace these challenges and are responding with new strategies to ensure the organization continuously hires and develops the people it needs to support its critical mission.

keeping up with rapid change

As the company evolves to be more digitally savvy, hiring talent with advanced tech skills has become a priority. But those tangible skills aren’t always enough to be successful. Given the rapid shift to virtual work, which the company has adopted as a way to secure talent, new and different skill sets are now required. For instance, Jonathan notes that managers must have the skills to manage their teams remotely and foster the collaboration they would have in the office.

When it comes to sales positions, an even bigger shift has occurred. Before the pandemic, sales reps routinely conducted in-person sales calls and spent significant time traveling between destinations. Now virtual meetings have become the norm, allowing for more meetings each day. Jonathan points out how being able to engage an audience on a digital platform requires different selling techniques compared to being in person. That’s why someone with five years of virtual selling experience could add more value compared to someone with 20 years of traditional sales experience.

While the company is focused on hiring those with digital skills, there are still many traditional roles that continually need to be filled in R&D, clinical studies, regulatory, safety and more. Therefore, Jonathan’s team must ensure there are always enough people to do the work — especially given the company’s many product and indication launches around the world in any given year.

But for long-term impact, the entire function must change to proactively provide talent with the needed skills, rather than just keep up with the churn.

tech-enabled, purpose-driven talent attraction strategies

According to Jonathan, “Talent Acquisition has to evolve in order to make sure that we can continue identifying candidates, not as a way of filling a hierarchy, but really to bring skills and value to the organization as a whole.”

UCB transforms to a skills-based organization. A close-up shot of a life sciences profession at work, looking to the left.So how does his team ensure they hire people who can bring their skills and add value? Part of the strategy is to highlight UCB’s employer brand in a meaningful and authentic way, such as focusing on the sense of purpose candidates will have working for a company that can change people’s lives. Through all of its talent acquisition activities, Jonathan tries to convey the sense of purpose to ensure they find candidates who share that mission.

UCB has also adopted a robust social media strategy, given that most of its talent have been identified, or are otherwise present, on social networks. But the company’s approach goes beyond simply targeting ads to talent based on keywords. Instead, they share user-generated content to create a more personal connection with potential candidates.

Hiring managers are encouraged to post their open positions with a personal note, like “Come and join my team!” rather than simply saying “Join UCB.” They may also post about a new hire and how they’re building a team to work with that person. This strategy helps fuel talent attraction by further highlighting the purpose and meaning UCB can offer as a place to work and appeals to like-minded individuals.

Improving diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is also a key priority for UCB, particularly around achieving gender parity at its Belgium headquarters. Given the multitude of studies showing how diverse teams perform better, UCB’s initiatives include appointing more women to leadership roles, and providing all recruiters with inclusive hiring training.

Meanwhile, for its operations in the United States, the company strives to foster a diverse workforce that replicates the diversity in U.S. society. Diversity is also a major focus in selection panels, along with leadership objectives to improve diversity at all levels.

developing talent for the long term

As UCB continues to enhance its talent acquisition strategy, it’s also boosting employee engagement and retention through upskilling and reskilling. This helps their people remain relevant in the global workforce, but also helps the organization get the skills it needs as those needs change.

Consider the teams that support its various product lines. Should the company lose exclusivity on a product, it reskills those workers so they can assume roles to support new products. According to Jonathan, providing people with learning opportunities and training empowers them to acquire new skills and keep adding value to the organization, improving retention.

Jonathan Berlan, global head of Candidate Experience at UCB“People can keep endlessly renewing themselves within one organization, without necessarily feeling they need to go somewhere else,” he says. “And that's really what we want to do. We want to make sure that people continue to learn and continue to grow when they're inside UCB and do this long term.”

This strategy also helps to achieve diversity goals, such as by promoting women to more advanced roles. “Supporting more women in leadership roles doesn’t necessarily mean solving it through external recruitment. That could be through promoting internal candidates as well,” Jonathan adds.

transforming to a skills-based organization

Facing “a confluence of uncertainty,” Jonathan is leading a large-scale transformation of UCB’s talent strategy. That starts with forming personal connections with talent that entice them to join and bring their skills to the company.

transforming to a skills-based organization. A life sciences profession fills pipettes and wears a hair covering and mask.And if candidates with needed skills can’t be found, a robust training and development program empowers current employees to fill those gaps. The result is a talent acquisition function that continually adds value to the organization, giving all people the opportunity to grow professionally.

This innovative approach has also earned Jonathan and his team a unique distinction: a prestigious LinkedIn Talent Award for the Best Talent Acquisition Team. The company was also a finalist in the Diversity Champion and Best Employer Brand categories, further recognizing its ability to adapt its strategies to overcome today’s talent acquisition challenges and meet the needs of the future.

“Nowadays, you need to take a much broader definition of talent,” Jonathan says. “You need to look at skills acquisition as much as talent acquisition. It's not about having one person to fix a particular problem. They need to come with a toolbox full of skills, and we're going to hopefully be able to help them add new tools and new skills as they continue their career with UCB.”

Want to see more enterprise talent life cycle strategies for life sciences organizations? Get the latest Talent Trends sector report.