Reinventing Pharma’s Talent Search


With US employment rates at their lowest in decades, thinning talent pools, combined with evolving industry trends and job-seeker motivations, are testing traditional pharma hiring methods – where targeting new skills and capabilities must become the new norm.

The quest for talent in the pharmaceutical industry demands innovative and energetic approaches to attracting and retaining people with the passion to lead into the next decade. With the US experiencing some of the lowest rates of unemployment in 50 years, the industry is vying for new skills and capabilities that reflect the changing life sciences landscape.

Pharma companies are acutely aware of the competition for talent as they evolve their business models to reflect the influence and challenges of biotechnology, innovative research, development and manufacturing operations, populations with increasing life expectancies, shifts in global economic and health prospects, and the continuing discovery of new disease areas with unmet needs.

Competing in a global market

Leading life sciences companies have enjoyed being “employers of choice” for many years, offering attractive opportunities and benefits, challenging and rewarding work, and long-term (if not lifetime) employment stability. Today, traditional pathways to development and promotion are being tested as job seekers and current employees explore opportunities to move across sectors and geographies, and assess the transferability of their skills to new entrants to the industry.

In the US, employment in the sector reportedly rose 24% between 2001 and 2018, and biotech research jobs alone have surged 26% since 2013. Global economic and population growth introduce new prospects for business growth and employment opportunities.

To compete in the global market, employers are constantly looking at the costs and benefits of employee mobility; they must weigh the risk of not being present in some countries, and the challenges of hiring employees with the skills, acumen, and knowledge to operate in new markets.

Employer of choice

Employment in a pharma company was considered a reliable lifelong career, and if internal mobility was limited, employees could move comfortably and seamlessly to another industry employer. The convergence of technologies, adoption of new capabilities like artificial intelligence and digital health tools, and the impact of the gig economy on traditional career pathways have all contributed to a changed landscape for industry employment.

The power to attract and retain the best in the labor market is no longer a given for life sciences employers. Talent acquisition and people management practices must be complemented by efficient and high-quality employment services and support; a delay in onboarding a new hire or a failure to effectively transfer knowledge lead to critical losses in time and productivity.

While income and benefits remain significant factors in employment decisions, candidates are also considering a company’s record and reputation for diversity and inclusion, community, societal and educational engagement, organizational culture, work-life balance strategies, and development opportunities. It truly is a buyer’s market.

Winning the race for talent

Life sciences remains attractive to an increasingly diverse, talented, and mobile professional workforce. Changing requirements of the industry – including expansion to biopharmaceuticals, increased application of analytics in conjunction with traditional scientific methods for discovery and development – continue to make it an appealing and rewarding sector.

Organic growth, mergers and acquisitions, outsourcing, and strategic partnerships offer new, attractive, and challenging experiences. This dynamic environment makes it incumbent on employers to track their talent, be open to new capabilities and innovative ways of working, and offer flexible employment options.

Recognize that life sciences talent may be as interested in real-world solutions as laboratory benches, in finding new ways to run clinical trials, including applying adaptive clinical trail tools and analytics, understanding biometrics as well as biologics, and breaking down the traditional linear boundaries of discovery, development, and commercialization to operate instead with fully integrated end-to-end disease area strategies.

Attracting, retaining, and developing talent to include strategies to successfully compete for the best and brightest at all stages of professionals’ careers, understanding and managing the impacts of globalization, and recognizing the appeal and limitations of talent mobility.

Know your talent

Be clear and deliberate about defining the right kind of talent for the dynamic, global pharmaceutical industry. Recognizing the bargaining power of talent and understanding the drivers for potential employees’ decisions will enable life sciences employers to quickly adjust and adapt to changing needs.

Appreciate and understand the importance of attracting and developing talent: life scientists have transferable skills and knowledge that are often untapped, leading to frustration and lost opportunities. The focus on STEM in education presents the life sciences industry with new and non-traditional sources of talent, with many of these potential resources introducing access to fresh markets for skills, new therapeutic areas, and previously inaccessible patient contact.

Be ready to balance the contingent-to-permanent workforce as your company grows and changes. Equip your company to leverage the gig economy in ways that benefit the organization and individuals, and use this new employment paradigm to manage the variable demands and capabilities at different stages of the drug development lifecycle.

There are many technological platforms and data sources that provide insight to the labor market. This is true for both the talent base and potential employers. Transparency of candidate and company information, well managed executive search and graduate recruitment, innovative talent acquisition and retention strategies, and evolving business operating models all contribute to the success of life sciences coming of age as a dynamic, innovative, and satisfying employment environment.