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Fuel Growth Through Innovative Talent Strategies


John Ebeid outlines talent strategies to reduce an organization's labor costs and increase quality.

Life in the life sciences sector is good, right? Not so fast. While tomorrow’s opportunity lies in the development of new medicines that can prevent or cure currently incurable diseases, the challenge for many companies in this space is to simply get to the next day. There are a number of macro trends that threaten the ability of organizations to capitalize on the growing market. For one, the pressure to reduce costs and prove value is intense and, perhaps, represents the greatest challenge facing life sciences companies today. Adding to the pressure is the increasing cost of bringing a new drug from idea to commercialization.

Comprising the lion’s share of that cost? Labor.

Talent strategies to reduce labor costs, increase quality

Life sciences companies should consider ways to transform their current business and operating models to combat rising costs and achieve excellence across their organizations-not only in R&D and global operations but also in areas such as IT, finance, sales and distribution. In fact, building an organization of the future is the most prominent challenge life sciences and healthcare human resource (HR) leaders face.

In today’s skill-based economy, quality talent is the differentiator between business growth and failure. The life sciences industry’s short and long-term strategies to hire talent have had to evolve as R&D portfolios have expanded and transformed to include more specialized drug compounds, targeted therapies, and personalized medicine.

Life sciences must aggressively embrace new workforce models as a way to fill in-house capability gaps and overcome R&D and marketplace challenges by externally sourcing innovative ideas, knowledge, skills, and technologies. The bottom line is that any company with plans to protect and grow its share of the market must have essential talent in place at critical turning points.

Choosing a best-fit talent solution

Determining which staffing model and strategies are best-suited to drive speed-to-market, innovation, and rapid decision-making can be confusing. There are advantages to every workforce management model, whether that means contingent or contract workers to augment in-house capabilities, securing full-time employees (FTEs) to fill voids, or engaging a functional service provider (FSP) to outsource services within the scope of a clinical trial program.

Biopharmaceutical sponsors that want to conduct better and faster clinical trials must understand key differences between each of these offerings. Doing so can help sponsors better align with the right partner, one that best serves their needs.

Contract staffing

The use of contractors has become an ideal option for many companies seeking to ensure resource availability without the commitment and overhead of an FTE. While hourly costs are often higher than an FTE within a company, they are typically lower than a contract research organization (CRO).

Contract services reduce costs by providing companies with urgent staffing solutions on an as-needed basis. And many scientific professionals are attracted to working as contractors due to independence and higher hourly rates, which make up for the insecurity of having contracts 100% of the time.

Permanent placement staffing

If measuring staffing costs at a salary level only, there would be a good case for maintaining a large in-house capability across functions with minimal outsourcing. FTE salary costs are lower than the rates provided by both contractors and CROs. However, with the volatility of the drug development process, maintaining a full headcount of FTEs can be a costly and overly rigid approach.

It’s also difficult. Persistent talent shortages have plagued the life sciences industry, with many companies struggling to secure the highly skilled professionals they need. Companies engage staffing partners to provide hard-to-find and highly skilled life sciences talent for permanent or senior-level roles. These positions are generally more strategic in nature and therefore require keeping knowledge in-house and maintaining control of who is doing what and where.

Functional service provider solution

Given the complexity and risks associated with clinical trials, functional outsourcing has grown in popularity, as both an option within strategic partnership arrangements, and as a viable alternative to full-service strategic models. By working with an FSP, life sciences companies can dramatically reduce the dangers associated with fluctuating demand while gaining efficiency and expertise. Well-defined services within the scope of a clinical trial project or program (e.g., data management, biostatistics, or medical writing) are good candidates for FSP outsourcing. Functional models are best suited to sponsors who seek control and oversight, a high level of resourcing flexibility, efficiency, and a lower-cost solution. As an extension of the sponsor organization, FSPs act as the “arms and legs,” while the heart and mind reside within the sponsor company.

The scale of a work portfolio is also an important factor in deciding whether to pursue an FSP partnership. Typically, an FSP model isn’t ideal for a single outsourced project because the cost and efficiency gains are greater with scale. That’s one of the reasons many life sciences companies utilize FSPs in order to leverage specific expertise in a therapeutic area, indication, or functional specialties, such as clinical trial management or medical writing.

How to identify the best partner

There are risks inherent in each of these staffing models, so it’s imperative biopharmaceutical developers identify a provider they trust to consistently deliver quality output and thoughtful, strategic guidance. Yet, how can the right partner be selected? What should sponsors be looking for? Consider four fundamental factors when seeking any talent partner.

●      Breadth of capabilities - Many life sciences companies find they have a need for all three talent solutions across their organization, so it is imperative to seek out a partner that can deliver broad capabilities.

●      Experience - With experience comes wisdom, performance excellence, and the ability to hit the ground running right away. Look for staffing companies that have built long-term, collaborative partnerships within the biopharma and life sciences industry.

●      Flexibility and scalability -Ask potential partners how they plan for and handle the need to scale up quickly, as well as how they avoid underutilizing resources. Program governance meetings are an excellent way to manage the resourcing demands of a successful staffing partnership. These also help to ensure constant communication between partners is a common and necessary occurrence.

●      Robust talent resources - Identifying, recruiting, and hiring top life sciences talent has never been more challenging. The right partner has an extensive network of talent, as well as innovative and proven sourcing strategies to locate qualified and experienced talent to fit the partnership’s needs.

Without a doubt, finding the right talent can be a challenge for any business-but doing so is critical for life sciences companies if they want to remain competitive. Strategic talent sourcing enables these organizations to limit the risks and costs of fluctuating demands related to the volatility of the drug development process. And the reality is that biopharma companies that handle much of their clinical operations in-house may be wasting money on the fixed costs of idle talent. Innovative life sciences companies are turning to staffing providers for guidance and forming robust partnerships in order to better mitigate risks and drive superior outcomes for the future.

John Ebeid is Senior Vice President, Randstad Life Sciences.


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