By Javier Carrasco, Senior Vice President

In the UK, 63,000 people are employed in the life sciences sector (ONS, BERD Statistics 2016), but recent research suggests that around half of these employees are feeling dissatisfied at work (Biospace Community Survey 2019). Dissatisfaction in life sciences must be addressed, as the industry contributes more towards the economy in terms of overall productivity than the UK average, and reports show that each life sciences job supports 2.5 roles in associated sectors (PwC, "The Economic Contribution of the UK Life Sciences Industry," 2017).

The obvious reasoning behind this level of dissatisfaction would seem to be salary, but studies have found this not to be the case. In fact, life sciences employees in Europe receive, on average, some of the highest salaries for their field worldwide, second only to the United States and Canada (The Scientist, "Life Science Salary Survey," 2017). This suggests that there is a need to delve deeper into the apparent disconnect between what life sciences employees want, and what their employers are providing.

Workforce planning

By observing trends in life sciences, it is clear that organisations are shifting their approach to recruit a greater number of graduates. Research shows that 50% of life sciences employers are recruiting more graduates than ever before, and undergraduate placements in the sector have risen by 17% since 2006. (ABPI, "Bridging the Skills Gap in the Biopharmaceutical Industry," 2019). Exploring options to develop these graduates should be a top priority for businesses that need to understand the pivotal roles within the organisation and set up clear progression paths to assist graduates in developing careers. But a more agile approach may be required. This is especially true as the longevity of life sciences skills is decreasing rapidly, resulting in a need for greater flexibility (Deloitte, "2019 Global Life Sciences Outlook").

Learning & development

Learning and development opportunities must be improved in order to provide platforms for life sciences employees to build on their skills and derive satisfaction from their roles. Amongst higher-qualified life sciences employees, only one-third undertake any sort of leadership development programme each year (McKinsey, "Developing Tomorrow’s Leaders in Life Sciences," 2018). Automation technologies play a big part in this, overseeing repetitive tasks and enabling employees to focus on more strategic activities (Deloitte, "The No-Collar Workforce in Life Sciences and Health Care," 2018). Around two-thirds of executives working in the life sciences sector believe that emerging technologies, such as blockchain, are critical to future success (Accenture, "Unleashing the Intelligent Enterprise for Patients," 2018).

However, workplace culture must also be taken into consideration in terms of learning and development. Increasing diversity in the workplace and expanding recruitment processes to include skilled professionals from a wide range of backgrounds can bring new perspectives and knowledge-sharing opportunities that are critical to sustainable success. Many organisations are now hiring from outside life sciences to achieve this (Deloitte Global Life Sciences Outlook 2019), and with an increasing number of women studying STEM, many organisations have greater accessibility to female talent. Women in particular are noted as one group who are driving change in the sector (Accenture, Meet Women Driving Change in Life Sciences).

Employee Value Proposition (EVP)

At this time of increasing employee dissatisfaction, it is important for the role of the hiring manager to adapt in order to facilitate necessary change within the workplace. HM roles and responsibilities must move from an almost exclusive focus on qualifications to incorporating cultural fit on a more equal basis. Employees are more likely to be satisfied in the workplace if they feel they are working within an environment that supports, nurtures, and recognises their skills. Interview techniques can be adapted to consider cultural fit, providing candidates with a more realistic look at the sector, the organisation, and the role in question, creating an excellent EVP. New methods and techniques for hiring may be required in order to achieve this, such as a stronger focus on real-life examples (video recruitment vs. texting), giving greater insight into life at the organisation.

The growing need for integration

Achieving a stronger connection between employer and employee in the life sciences sector begins with a new approach to recruitment and role planning. Training hiring managers is critical, as they are amongst the first people employees meet. Organisations need to make sure hiring managers understand the experience they should be providing candidates. Cancelling interviews last minute, for instance, or providing a poor experience on a candidate’s first day are not acceptable. The first 90 days of placement are critical in helping new hires settle into the role and boosting chances of retention. Companies that make full use of the skills of their employees see higher retention rates, with 73% of life sciences employees who feel well-utilised planning to stick with their current employer (Deloitte Talent 2020).

It is essential that in today’s competitive talent landscape employers within the Life Sciences sector address all of these elements. Employers need to ensure that people are provided with a differentiated experience and nurtured from the first touch point with your organisation all the way through to their first day as an employee and then throughout their career - increasing everything from the number offers that are accepted through to retention and productivity.