In the past, life science workforces have placed focus on medical therapies and pharmaceuticals, but growth drivers now extend beyond these traditional practices.
There has been a gradual shift in the types of employees that compose the workforce, with drivers including dramatic increases in the growth of niche drugs and generics, technological innovations in areas of biotechnology and medical devices, and developments in assisted technologies, such as mobile health and e-health.
These are compounded by an aging population in many geographical regions increasing the demand for healthcare, alongside more holistic approaches to medicine.
Along with the challenges posed by the evolution of life sciences, companies need to look at overarching operational trends, such as healthcare reforms, regulatory requirements, government funding, and other considerations affecting strategic workforce planning.
Most life sciences executives agree these advances are hampered by a shortage of talent with traditional science skills such as chemistry, microbiology, technology, and engineering. To be successful today and in the future, the industry needs to embrace a trend of hiring talent with a much wider combination of skills.
It is increasingly important to manage science while developing commercial products in order to meet the challenges of this industry-in-transition. As companies are more regularly partnering with research organisations and academic institutions to help with research and development (R&D), there is an increasing need to hire individuals who can manage outside partnerships and regulatory requirements, as well as data analysis, health economics, and outcomes research.
The key word is flexibility. We see evidence that many companies have already made the switch to more flexible and focused staffing options with an average of three in 10 life sciences companies now having a workforce comprised of flexible R&D or scientific staffing options. These workers are long-term contract resources, freelancers, independent contractors, or talent hired for specific project work.
In addition, for nearly a third of employers more than half of R&D or scientific work is conducted virtually, such as in cloud collaboration by professionals who are directly employed by the organisation. Most employers anticipate that amount rising over the next two to three years.
Another key word is planning. Globally, we see less people choosing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects to follow as a career. Companies should be planning ahead for future talent by becoming more involved with academic institutions at a high school and college level to generate interest in the skills needed by the industry.
Employers can attract individuals while they are still in school by offering rotation projects or internships. This will mean students can discover skills they will need in order to pursue a career in life sciences after they graduate.
Thirdly, adapting means being willing to invest in developing your existing workforce. Certain skill sets dealing with the challenges of today’s life sciences industry cannot be developed in a classroom environment; they are acquired on the job. Companies that take it upon themselves to grow their own talent will end up having a workforce with skills perfectly suited to business objectives and the investment in training and development will foster loyalty and increase retention. This is a key requirement in a talent short marketplace.
In summary, the Life Sciences industry will continue to evolve and companies need to take stock of the past and pay attention to the future. The organisations that will thrive are the ones that embrace the trend toward having a diverse, flexible, and focused workforce, which can seamlessly adapt to global changes and challenges.