March 1, 2022

Talent Management in Life Sciences: 3 Questions for HR Leaders

In 2020, COVID-19 put a new spotlight on the life sciences. More than two years into the pandemic, that spotlight has revealed a sector that’s going through rapid changes, including:

  • New demands for innovation.
  • New demands for talented people.
  • New demands among those talented people for better pay and better working conditions.

All the while, the role of human resources has evolved. Remote teams require a different approach to talent management. So does remote recruitment. And people are looking to HR for leadership in matters of health within their organizations.

Those new pressures have changed the way HR leaders in life sciences companies recruit, hire, and retain talent. In moments of such rapid change, strategy can get lost in the day-to-day work. But HR cannot afford to lose sight of the bigger picture right now — not in this sector.

Here are three questions life sciences HR leaders can ask themselves to bring that bigger picture back into focus.

1. Who on Your Team Is Feeling Burned Out?

Life sciences talent faces dual pressures, and each is intense.

On one side is the need to ramp up R&D and production to respond to the world’s need for vaccines, therapies, and treatments. The demand and the speed at which people have been working since early 2020 is unsustainable, and lots of them are feeling burned out.

In the meantime, these same people know that there is a shortage of talent, and they can raise their salaries, sometimes dramatically, by switching employers. “Everybody we meet has six offers,” then-Immunitas CEO Jeffrey Goldberg told Fierce Biotech at the end of 2021.

This is a recipe for disaster. When someone is feeling the burn after so many months of intense work, then they spot a new opportunity, odds are they will push themselves to go on. Rather than looking for a moment to relax, these workers will be preparing for job interviews and salary negotiations. Once they’re hired, they will have new bosses and new colleagues they’ll want to prove themselves to.

Understanding these dynamics is crucial for HR managers right now so they can intervene and help ease that pressure wherever possible. 

At the French life sciences company Sanofi, for example, HR has been looking for ways to re-engage the passions of its employees. Clint Wallace, senior vice president of HR, tells Human Resources Executive that the company has taken “big swings” at achieving D&I goals, reskilling employees, and creating hybrid working environments.

hurdle on an empty running track; talent management challenges for life sciences

2. Are You Letting Geography Limit Your Recruitment?

It’s also unsustainable for businesses to recruit and hire local talent exclusively. The pandemic has shown us all how interconnected the world’s healthcare systems, life sciences research, and supply chains are. Recruitment requires the same global scope.

Of course, there are local conditions that will impact your organization uniquely. As Hays UK Director of Life Sciences Chris Smith writes, the needs across Europe varied from country to country. Organizations in the UK and Belgium experienced a higher demand for analytical talent, for example, whereas Polish organizations experienced a higher demand for marketing and sales people.

That said, life sciences companies in Cambridge, Leuven, Warsaw, or anywhere else can meet those needs with remote employees. By expanding the geographic scope of recruitment, companies are able to overcome local skills shortages.

A lot of employers learned this lesson in 2020 and 2021. “We are now more open-minded to non-local talent,” one industry executive tells the Coalition of State Bioscience Institutes. “Location is no longer as big an issue for all roles. Opening the talent geographic net allowed us to attract higher levels of talent that weren’t there previously.”

Certainly, not every job can be done from a home office. On-site work is a part of life sciences research and production. For many organizations, though, the pandemic did inspire a paradigm shift, and they have begun to move worksites to where their people are.

Roger Humphrey, president of JLL’s Life Sciences division, says simply building flexible working spaces away from the company’s main facilities can boost recruitment. “If you are living in Massachusetts, you’re probably not in downtown Boston, which means you are commuting an hour on the train,” Humphrey says. 

“So, the ability to work at a drop-in center closer to home is a powerful recruiting tool. That can be a differentiator. The competition for talent is not just about the right location, amenities, compensation, and benefits but also about flexibility and work/life balance.” 

Whether you’re hiring people from abroad or advocating for satellite worksites, you are helping your organization overcome geographic restraints by connecting talent with wherever people are most needed.

empty path into a sunset; talent management challenges for life sciences

3. Are You Helping People Find the Next Steps in Their Careers?

Talent retention today means understanding the career goals of each and every employee, then plotting possible courses for them. We call this career mapping, and it’s work that can only be done at scale with tools like predictive analytics. 

In healthcare and life sciences, many organizations recognize the need for such tools and have begun to implement them. April Eldred, VP of talent acquisition at Moderna, says a data-driven approach to talent management and recruiting was necessary during the company’s lightning-fast growth as it developed its COVID-19 vaccine. 

“When you need to make a billion doses of a vaccine, and there are only so many people with a skill set that you need, it’s essential to find out where the skill sets live,” Eldred tells Recruiting Daily. “We’ve leveraged data in order to differentiate and get in front of the right talent. It’s been extremely effective. We’ve been able to bring the business along on our journey, showing them the data, how we’re going to pivot and the results of our data-driven approach.”

That data will often reveal triangular relationships among a person’s career goals, a company’s goals, and the skills that person will need to help the company achieve those goals. At AVROBIO, a clinical-stage lentiviral gene therapy company in Massachusetts, HR asks employees about their career goals and tries to map those against the company’s future skills needs.

“This is an investment in people,” says Georgette Verdin, chief human resources officer at AVROBIO. “We want to think about how we prepare people for their next role. We ask questions about how we can grow our employees as our business grows.”

Define Recruitment and Retention Strategies With Talent Intelligence

There are three big-picture challenges in life sciences talent management right now:

  • Burnout among employees.
  • Localized talent shortages.
  • Mapping out next steps in people’s careers.

A Talent Intelligence Platform is specifically designed to help address these challenges by giving organizations the tools they need to understand people’s skills and ambitions at scale. 

For organizations, this is the best way to connect the right candidates to the right roles, and employees with new opportunities.

Images by: Anastasia Nelen, Mediocre Studio, Karsten Würth