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How to address the talent gap in pharma and life sciences

It’s not news that the pharma and life sciences markets are experiencing a skills gap, but the time has come to act. The gap is costing the UK £6.3 million a year in hiring fees and temporary staff wages and until organisations take matters into their own hands the gap will only continue to widen. However, pharma and life sciences companies face a different challenge to other industries. The burgeoning sectors must keep on track with drug developments, navigate changes in industry regulations and distribution channels whilst balancing this with a talent shortage. Professor Carole Longson – ABPI’s Chief Scientific Officer – highlights that the UK’s standing as a market leader in life sciences is dependent on the talented workforce. So how can the nation address the talent gap?

Tracing the gap to where it begins 

Amongst the pupils sitting in today’s classrooms could be the next generation’s equivalent of Nina Tandon – the biomedical engineer who co-founded the first company to grow human bones. If bright children like Nina aren’t encouraged to study STEM subjects at GCSE and beyond to degree level, the industry could miss out on countless medical breakthroughs. Life sciences and pharma companies must get behind government initiatives that give young people the confidence to study these subjects and pursue STEM careers because there’s every possibility that the next generation holds the answer to a cure for Parkinson’s disease or the next breakthrough in 3D printing.

To address the skills gap at this level, the government, life sciences industry, NHS and education sector all must collaborate and ensure an adequate skills pipeline. Appealing to the younger generation may involve companies offering apprenticeships or other entry-level job opportunities. Within the biopharmaceutical industry, the number of undergraduate placements has climbed 17% in one year which paints a hopeful picture for the wider life sciences sector.

Employer brand

As well as targeting the future workforce, companies must refocus how they engage with active candidates. Employer branding is a term thrown around frequently but its potential to help attract job seekers should not be overlooked. By effectively communicating to candidates why the life sciences industry offers such a rewarding career, companies can access a wider pool of talent and attract people working in alternative industries.

Following a decade of change, it’s more important than ever for leaders to be open to hiring candidates from unconventional backgrounds and who don’t have the typical skillset they hire for. The focus should be on finding people who are adaptable and emotionally intelligent, two examples of the top skills employees need in 2021. Not only will this strategy help pharma and life sciences companies tackle the skills gap, but it addresses the need to have a more diverse workforce.

Bioinformatics and big data

The digital skills gap has received a lot of coverage in recent years and now there’s a growing concern for how the shortage is impacting the life sciences industry. Organisations are feeling the pressure to take their large data sets and use them to make better decisions, yet one in three life sciences companies admit that they’re yet to do so. But what can they do?

Science Industry Partnership (SIP) revealed a tenfold increase in the demand for ‘big data’ professionals in five years. Big data and bioinformatics are playing a larger role in the success of the life sciences sector, so finding people both with knowledge of the industry and analytical reasoning will become a top priority. In response to the looming talent crisis, SIP has outlined a 2030 Skills Strategy with the aim of compiling evidence of the current skills in demand and those that are anticipated to emerge over the next decade. Life sciences and pharma companies need to take stock of this situation and assess how they can upskill existing employees to prevent the gap widening.

Cross-disciplinary talent

46% of CEOs agree that changes in customer behaviour are a major disruptive business trend for the market. As healthcare moves more towards a patient-centric model where the individual is more in control of their care, business leaders must evaluate whether their workforce has the cross-disciplinary talent to handle this change. When hiring sales representative, hiring managers should look for candidates who are both strong communicators and who have the analytical mind-set to be at the forefront of the digital revolution. How can they find this talent?

In PwC’s 22nd Annual CEO Survey, 46% of respondents agreed that retrained and upskilling should be the top strategy to tackle a skills gap, compared to just 14% who believe in hiring new candidates from competitors. Poaching talent from different organisations will help companies narrow the gap in the short run, however, a more viable long-term solution is to invest in the current workforce.

Join us on our mission to help healthcare clients find better solutions for their patients

At IQVIA, we recognise that a talent gap prevents patients from receiving the care they need, so we only hire the best and invest in our colleagues. Our sales representatives, nurse educators and medical science liaisons are on hand to ensure that our healthcare clients have everything they need to prescribe the right products for their patients and receive the care they need. Join us and help our clients drive healthcare forward.
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