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how life sciences companies are engaging talent in a new age of medicine.

5 Talent Trends that life sciences organizations need to scale up and build agile workforces

| 6 min read |

Anyone familiar with the life sciences industry knows it is an innovative, life-changing and sizable global sector. There are many other ways to describe this life-saving and life-enhancing industry, but agile doesn’t always come to mind. This is mainly attributed to the industry’s highly conservative and regulated nature.

But all that has recently changed. The business of developing drugs, therapies and medical devices is facing new challenges that are forcing companies to find and develop products more quickly and efficiently.

Randstad Sourceright’s 2020 Talent Trends research shows that deploying new skills has grown increasingly important to employers in the life sciences sector, as the industry faces increasing demand. And, as digitalization transforms legacy business models into more consumer-oriented, evidenced-based types of medicine, companies are investing in new skills as well as non-traditional work arrangements to become more agile and innovative.

Even before the global COVID-19 pandemic broke out this year, 83% of human capital and C-suite leaders in the life sciences sector expected strong demand for their products and services in 2020.

As is the case in many industries, life sciences companies were focusing their efforts on creating a more positive customer experience. This means integrating science with patient care, leveraging data, and customizing products based on genetic and other user-specific information.

At the same time, the digitalization movement within the sector is full-on for both the clinical and research initiatives, with therapy developers realizing how technology can drive better patient outcomes.

These market trends have driven demand for different kinds of skills – talent that is widely deployed in consumer sectors where UI/UX expertise is critical. As digital transformation continues to be a business imperative, it’s clear life sciences companies will need to attract, engage with and acquire new talent.

Here are the top five trends we’ve identified to help you build a talent strategy that rises to meet today’s challenges:

01. Talent analytics and analytical skills drive business decisions.

From gene therapies to customized pharmaceuticals, much of the development in the years ahead will hinge on a company’s ability to harness patient information.

The demand for data competencies spans all functions in the sector, especially for HR. According to our Talent Trends research, more than half (57%) of life sciences leaders planned to invest in digital specialists to support HR in 2020. And, talent analytics was identified as the top issue (at 27%) within their organizations.

For example, according to KPMG’s “Digitalization in Life Sciences” report, companies in the sector believe technology has the potential to reliably predict and prevent a variety of illnesses. Patient data could be shared to ensure the best treatment is prescribed and executed. Drug dosages could be personalized based on this data, and continual monitoring would help adjust treatment as needed.

Expanding the use of data is also finding its way into the back office as HR looks to leverage analytics to determine the best use of resources – whether that’s permanent or contingent talent. Some life sciences organizations may shift more of their permanent workforce to flexible in an effort to drive business agility, and talent insights are accommodating such a move.

02. Talent leaders turn to reskilling and upskilling to close the gap.

For life sciences companies, fulfilling its massive and specialized skills demand over the next decade will be a challenge. In many specialty areas, novel jobs and skills will be needed. In some rapidly growing sub-specialties, however, there simply aren’t enough institutions to train tomorrow’s scientists.

For instance, the growing field of bioinformatics will help pharmaceutical and genomics businesses accelerate their research, but there is a considerable gap between the industry’s need and academia’s ability to deliver well-trained researchers.

Functions such as HR will look to fill many jobs internally, our survey shows. More than any other sectors we surveyed, life sciences companies said they plan to provide training for their workforces in a variety of disciplines, including:

  • 90% data science
  • 70% analytics
  • 70% soft skills
  • 60% job-specific skills
  • 60% IoT technology

Reskilling and upskilling are critical to the life sciences sector because the industry is changing rapidly, and many established, global leaders are seeking opportunities in emerging specialties and market opportunities. At the same time, technology companies will look to enter the life sciences business with consumer products that further accelerate the personalization of healthcare and collection of patient data.

03. Agile workforces help employers focus on core activities.

As Deloitte has reported, 2020 is a critical year in the development of interoperable data that will be used to drive the sector for years to come. To successfully transition into a data-driven business, life sciences companies must acquire the skills that will enable them to develop more individualized medicine, as an example.

The workers who will accelerate innovation may be both permanent and temporary, and a number of large pharmaceutical developers expected to shift more of their work to a flex workforce. Of the human capital leaders we surveyed, 40% said that 21% to 30% of their total workforces were contingent, and 30% expected to shift more permanent roles to contingent ones this year.

The shift to more flexible resources is in line with other steps the pharmaceutical industry is taking to become more agile and responsive. In recent years, more of these businesses have outsourced internal functions and focused their efforts on core functions such as marketing, as well as research and development (R&D). The growth of contract manufacturing, for example, has been steadily rising as drug makers outsource billions of dollars in services.

04. Authentic and transparent employer brands ignite talent acquisition.

To ensure they have access to talent, more life sciences companies are focusing on creating stronger employer brands and better candidate experiences. In the past, these companies’ cultures and workplaces were mostly shielded from public view due to the sensitive and highly regulated nature of their businesses.

Nearly all (97%) of life sciences human capital and C-suite leaders we surveyed earlier this year said creating a positive candidate experience was critical to attracting and retaining talent.

To attract both contingent and permanent talent, more businesses are focusing on creating transparency and leveraging brand ambassadors to showcase the successful careers of their workers. Some global leaders have even made concerted efforts to be more open about the journey that job applicants can expect when they apply for roles.

A majority of life sciences companies we surveyed (60%) said their employer brand was helping to attract a larger number of job applicants, but less than half (43%) said that brand was helping to retain talent. This indicates that they may be losing out to competitors with more compelling employee value propositions, or that their brands are not truly representative of the culture that exists.

05. Talent pooling delivers skills on demand.

To more quickly access workers of all types – temporary, statement of work, independent contractors and permanent employees – companies are building talent pools and communities. Using freelance management system tools and private pools, these organizations are nurturing ongoing relationships with talent, including those who may have been passed over for a role previously or those who have served in temporary roles at these organizations.

As we battle the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, we’re also seeing companies build alumni groups to recruit talent back to their companies that may have retired or moved to other organizations.

For many companies, talent pooling offers a wealth of benefits, from enhancing access to workers to creating a more engaged audience to economic benefits. For instance, if companies enroll passed-over applicants into their talent pools, they can accumulate large lists of workers who have expressed interest and have been pre-screened. This can potentially reduce the time to source and fill for other roles.

For job seekers in the life sciences sector, the benefits of joining a talent pool or talent community are clear: it can enhance their professional endeavors. In our 2019 survey of working professionals around the world, 42% said joining a talent pool improves their job search results, 40% said they received CV or resume support, and just as many (40%) claimed it provided networking opportunities within the industry. These figures were higher than the global average, indicating professionals in life sciences value talent pools more.

solving talent challenges to help solve health challenges

As a dynamic and critical sector to people everywhere, life sciences businesses face enormous challenges today and in the years ahead. A dire need to prevent and treat COVID-19 is just one of many factors driving demand and change.

With many drugs coming off patent, the shift to digital business models and the growing importance of data to effective therapies, ensuring access to skills is increasingly critical. Through better-informed talent acquisition strategies, along with internal skills development, the industry will be better equipped to drive innovation and meet the needs of a quickly evolving market.

Find out how technology can help you scale up and innovate quickly. Check out the COVID-19 digital toolkit.