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Diversity and Movement is the lifeblood of the life sciences industry

Diversity and Movement is the lifeblood of the life sciences industry


In its first ever pan European research on the life sciences industry, Kelly asked almost 1,400 of its workers their opinions on everything from work life design, to AI, through to what matters most to them. With respondents from Germany, France, the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Italy it was surprising to find so many commonalities between each of the countries.
Last Updated: 07-Feb-2019

The life sciences are all about diversity and movement, which is why Pharma and Medical Devices companies may need more than just a good reputation after Brexit.

As the United Kingdom drifts towards an exit from the European Union, the Pharma and Medical Devices sectors are preparing for all eventualities. However, the employment landscape is already highly competitive and it is shifting. With a widespread skills shortage, employers are under constant pressure to attract and retain talent. Like any other important decisions, strategic employment decisions should be based, not on beliefs, but on facts.

As a major player in the life-sciences recruitment industry, Kelly has witnessed the sector grow in innovation, scope and profitability. This success is down to its most valuable resource – it’s people. However, we felt it was time to ask some very basic questions about what these people want, need and expect from the industry. In late summer 2018, we conducted our first ever Pan-European life sciences project to get answers.

Research was carried out in France, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands with responses from almost 1,400 life sciences professionals. The results revealed data relevant to scientists, engineers and others working in research and development, medical and regulatory affairs as well as marketing and sales.

Perhaps the most important finding was that the EU life sciences industry is far more reliant on contingent workers than industry as a whole. Whereas 19% of European employees work on a temporary or freelance basis, the figure was 58% for our life sciences cohort. Furthermore, many could be classified as working part-time. Of the whole sample, 19% worked for fewer than 36 hours per week and this included 32% of all women. Against this reality, it is surprising that only 3% of ads for key roles in the Pharma and Medical Device sector contain any mention of part-time working.

Companies actively seeking skills and experience may have to re-think their recruitment approach. Though motivated enough to provide information for us, 80% of respondents were not actually looking for new employment opportunities. What’s more, under 40% said they would go through the traditional job application process to find new or different work.

Although Artificial Intelligence, robotics and cognitive technologies have the potential to transform almost every existing employment role, our respondents were generally not worried. Three-quarters regarded automation as a means to augment their work rather than replace it.

These findings may suggest that our life sciences professionals are fairly happy where they are but that doesn’t mean they are not prepared to move. About a third had already changed location within their own countries and a quarter had worked in more than one country. Of those who had never changed location, a massive 78% said they would be prepared to move overseas if economic conditions deteriorated.

Money was not ranked as the most important factor in choosing work and there was quite a large income disparity across the countries involved. Recruitment advertising in the life sciences industries doesn’t often mention wages. Only 50% of ads in the UK provide a guide to pay rates and under 5% do so in France.

Despite the fact that life science professionals rate their employer’s reputation, the challenging quality of their work and career progression as more attractive features of a new job than the money itself, things could change rapidly. With all the uncertainties surrounding Brexit, the certainty is that the life-blood of the life sciences industries is ready to move. Employers will need to respond if they don’t want to see their vital blood supplies dry up.


Richard Bradley is UK Managing Director of Kelly, which offers specialist outsourcing, consulting and staffing services, connecting professional and technical talent in the fields of Accounting, Industrial, Commercial, Engineering and Science.  

To download a copy of the executive summary of the life science research, please visit:

Executive summary:
Talent In Science main report download: