The UK has an ambitious aim to be a world leader in life sciences. In November 2017, the government published its Life Sciences Industrial Strategy, which has the aim of supporting industry and innovation.
Yet the sector remains in a precarious state. The UK’s current migration system restricts the ability to compete for highly skilled life sciences workers, and there are fears that Brexit could make things much worse.
Last month, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) published its full review of the shortage occupation list, which documents occupations in high demand in the UK. The Committee recommended that a number of key life science research professions, including biological scientists and biochemists, be among those added to the list of critical jobs.
The life sciences talent shortage in the UK is further exacerbated by a shortage of people with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) qualifications entering the industry.
People who have STEM qualifications and experience are highly sought after as the UK seeks to increase productivity and innovation. The government’s industrial strategy stated that “these skills are important for a range of industries from manufacturing to the arts. The number of STEM undergraduates has been increasing over the last few years, but there remains unmet demand from employers.”
The number of people enrolling for science subjects in higher education has generally been lower compared to non-science subjects. In a longitudinal survey that tracked students three and a half years after leaving higher education, it was found that UK resident students who qualified in biological sciences were least likely to be employed in professional/graduate-level occupations.
Talent leaders in life sciences will overcome recruitment and retention challenges in the UK by adopting a total talent approach and ensuring their HR function is driven by strategy and proactivity.
This proactivity includes engaging future employees early, and it also means moving beyond the traditional ways of recruiting, such as using simple job postings. Strategic engagement requires a marketing-minded, social, mobile and employee-centric approach. This is accomplished by developing and implementing a well-defined Employer Value Proposition (EVP).
With the guidance of an EVP, organisations can provide engaging, relevant material to targeted audiences. EVPs demonstrate what joining the life sciences industry can offer — both personally and professionally — while raising awareness of the organisation. The result is not only a greater quantity of candidates available, but also a higher quality, as the individuals who are engaged have already self-selected with the promoted messages and are clearly interested in the organisation.
Life sciences leaders should also encourage hiring managers to scour their own networks for talent. Recruitment is often seen as an HR responsibility, but people working within life sciences should have the necessary networks, skills, and credibility to help identify new pipelines of talent and future employees.
Hiring managers should work with HR to engage and attract people. This will help manage the expectation of hiring managers and ensure both parties understand the alignment between the skills needed for a role and the skills available in the market. Recruiters should support hiring managers to access their networks and promote their organisation. When hiring managers have the trust, knowledge and resources to work as an ally in the recruitment process, they will do so more freely and more successfully.
The recruitment challenge facing life sciences is aggravated by the fact that the industry relies heavily on recruiting people with highly technical knowledge and direct role experience. This narrows the recruitment pool. Talent leaders need to think more broadly, otherwise they will miss the opportunity to hire talented people.
Rather than focusing solely on technical skills, hiring managers should consider what other skills and experience employees could bring that would help transform their organisation within this ever-evolving industry. Soft skills such as good communication, time management, and a strong work ethic could be more of a differentiator than simply relying on degrees and higher-education qualifications.
Broadening the list of critical skills needed will enable the industry to proactively recruit a range of emerging and experienced candidates from creative and scientific backgrounds. HR teams can help their organisations think creatively about what an organisation requires of candidates now and in the future. They can help organisations understand the value of candidates with a balance of technical, behavioural, and leadership skills – those who embrace change and understand the importance of strategic thinking. The result is stronger, more adaptable, quality employees.
Following on from this, it is vital that recruitment strategies are aligned to commercial planning. Recruitment and retention strategies must be embedded across the entire organisation to truly effect change and attract the right talent.
Building a sustainable talent strategy that includes four key elements will ensure the recruitment function is viewed as a competitive advantage for the organisation. These are:
- Strong market intelligence:Gaining insight into target markets provides organisations with the opportunity to proactively identify business-critical talent across the business, as well as analyse the current skills gap.
- Tracking and evaluating metrics:Organisations must provide an insight into performance, in addition to enabling proactive recruitment. Effectively recruiting the right talent means that leaders must first understand the soft skills, competencies, and professional qualifications they need.
- Tailor recruitment:The hiring process, training, and incentives should be adapted to meet the needs of different groups within your organisation. Successful segmentation reduces costs, improves development, and strengthens employer brand.
- Align talent and business strategies:Getting everyone on the same page makes planning ahead easier and will ensure that the right talent is available when it is most needed. Effective workforce planning requires an inclusive talent management solution, succession planning, and retention initiatives. It’s vital that hiring managers in life sciences work with HR professionals to achieve this and ensure the sector is able to thrive.
Tanya Derrick is client services director, EMEA, at Cielo Talent.