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Building the Pharma Talent of Tomorrow from Today’s Workforce


Hiring new employees may not be the answer to the war for talent.

Alp Perahya

Alp Perahya

Hiring qualified employees who can drive the business forward is a priority for any pharma company, but one that remains a perennial challenge. If it seems like finding those skilled candidates your company needs is getting more difficult, you’re not alone.

According to Randstad Sourceright’s 2022 Talent Trends research, which surveyed more than 900 C-suite and human capital leaders around the world across all industries, one-third of respondents in the life sciences and pharma sector say that talent scarcity is a major pain point for them. With 55% of leaders planning to hire extensively this year, the competition for skilled workers is only growing.

Compounding the challenge is that many of the in-demand skills needed for the pharma industry today—like artificial intelligence, cloud computing, cyber security and data science—are the same skills being sought by companies in other industries, particularly the IT and communications sector.

Difficulty finding the right people for the right jobs can mean a company’s goals and objectives aren’t fulfilled. And, research from Randstad shows that it takes an average of 105 days to fill a non-executive position in the life sciences sector, accounting for a loss of $500 each day per position and slowing down the business at a time when agility is essential.

What can companies do to overcome the issue of talent scarcity? Given the challenges in sourcing external talent, it’s time to look internally. Consider the following four tips to develop an effective workforce despite the limited talent supply.

Tip #1: Mobilize current talent

More companies today are focusing on internal talent mobility, or identifying those current employees who can be developed to assume new roles that would otherwise be hard to fill. By upskilling and reskilling the current workforce with the right knowledge and expertise to fill those gaps, companies can avoid the struggles of competing for an increasingly limited pool of pharma talent.

Training current employees who already know the business, understand its priorities, and are familiar with the inner workings means less time spent onboarding new talent. It also provides the flexibility to create better alignment between in-demand skills and the workforce. Research from McKinsey shows that life sciences companies report an 80% mismatch in skills; providing employees with the training to meet rapidly shifting needs will be more important than ever.

At the same time, developing internal talent with progressive career paths is a great way to retain employees and show them they’re valuable to the organization. Democratized worklife coaching, which helps employees excel in their roles, expand their skills, and make informed decisions about their futures, can have a similar effect. In the midst of the Great Resignation, with so many people eagerly switching jobs, providing learning, and development opportunities and the chance to progress in the company can incentivize them to stay.

The value of developing internal talent is clear. The Talent Trends research finds that 67% of life science and pharma leaders believe reskilling and upskilling employees for different roles is an effective way to address talent scarcity. Additionally, 63% say they already invest in internal mobility platforms to augment their recruiting efforts, while 53% plan to increase their investments in this area.

Tip #2: Focus on the talent experience

Upskilling and reskilling are only one part of the equation to create an internal talent pool that can be mobilized for new and different roles. Providing an exceptional talent experience will keep people engaged and motivated as they advance in their careers.

Pharma companies already have a built-in advantage in this regard, offering employees the chance to be part of a mission to help society through their innovations. While sharing a company’s purpose is often critical for talent to be satisfied on the job, there is much more employers can do to create a workplace in which employees want to stay.

According to the Talent Trends research, 77% of life sciences and pharma leaders recognize this need and are more focused than ever on the talent experience. Factors like offering flexible work arrangements, increasing compensation and benefits, and focusing on employee well-being can all contribute to a rewarding talent experience that keeps people engaged and retained. Companies can also think outside the box with their offerings to truly give candidates what they want, and might be unavailable from other employers, like infertility treatments, wellness coaches, or daycare.

Tip #3: Align talent mobility with DEI

Another piece of the talent experience is having a robust diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy that fosters a workforce where everyone benefits from opportunities for growth. But simply having such a program isn’t enough; it should be embedded throughout the organization, and something that is continuously improved and evolved. Ensuring all employees—regardless of background—are informed of potential career paths and the learning and development available is critical.

In fact, the Randstad Workmonitor found about half (49%) of respondents ages 18 to 24 won’t accept a job with a company that is not actively improving its DEI program. Even for employees of all ages, the average is 41%, showing the potential value of DEI in attracting, winning, and retaining talent.

Despite this, the Talent Trends research finds that just 63% of life sciences and pharma employers believe the DEI practices that are embedded in their organizations are important to candidates—the lowest percentage among all reported sectors and 16 points lower than the global average. What’s more, only 41% say their hiring practices supported their diversity goals in 2021— again the lowest among all sectors, including those the pharma industry competes with for talent.

The most comprehensive programs go beyond diversity recruitment to provide true pay equity, opportunities for advancement, and training and development—other essential components to retaining and growing top talent.

Tip #4: Seek different types of talent

Of course, even the most sophisticated internal mobility programs and engagement strategies won’t be enough to fill all talent gaps—including backfilling those who do take on new roles. Still, this doesn’t mean those gaps have to be filled by full-time employees. Aside from internal candidates, employers can address talent scarcity with contingent talent.

Whether temporary labor, freelancers, or independent contractors, or inviting retired employees back to work part time, such talent can help to fill specialized skills gaps quickly. And by using talent analytics and market intelligence, it can be easier to understand those gaps and which types of talent can fill them, based on factors like availability, location, or skill level.

The prescription to overcoming talent scarcity

For companies in the pharma industry, not being able to find needed talent can jeopardize progress in the face of huge potential. Understanding how your current workforce can be the key to meeting critical gaps and getting work done. Combine that with continuous improvements to your talent experience and DEI initiatives, and building an agile workforce with different talent classes, and you’ll have an effective strategy to overcome talent scarcity and be better prepared to meet the changing talent needs of the future.

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