Taking action to stem the safety/quality brain drain
SummaryThere has been much talk recently about the challenge of retaining talent in life sciences, particularly in relation to safety and regulatory disciplines, where younger professionals’ ambitions for a broad base of experience are jarring with companies’ needs to hold onto expertise they have invested in.
- Author Company: Arriello
- Author Name: Alan White
- Author Email: Alan.email@example.com
If escalating salaries are unsustainable, what else can life sciences firms do to retain valuable pharmacovigilance talent as shortages grow, asks Alan White, CEO of Arriello
There has been much talk recently about the challenge of retaining talent in life sciences, particularly in relation to safety and regulatory disciplines, where younger professionals’ ambitions for a broad base of experience are jarring with companies’ needs to hold onto expertise they have invested in.
The issue appears to be global, too, judging by the feedback at the FT Global Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology Conference in London late last year. More modest-sized biotech companies seem particularly vulnerable, unable to match the salaries and ‘on-paper’ benefits of the global pharma giants. Too often, these firms offer new graduates a good grounding in pharmacovigilance (PV) – a highly sought-after skillset - only for a larger brand to swoop in and capitalise on that investment.
Heeding the call for workplace flexibility
Rather than continue to lament the problem, the life sciences industry needs to come up with new and creative ways to foster and hold on to rising talent. For instance, while younger employees may be ambitious for a range of different experiences, they are reputedly less influenced by salary than previous generations. Freedom to explore, create, innovate and experiment at work are often among their personal priorities, along with the ability to protect their work-life balance – which may mean being able to apply for extended periods off work to fulfil extra-curricular ambitions, work from home, or have more control over their working hours.
This shift in values plays to the strengths of biotech firms, which may not be able to match the eye-watering salaries offered by higher-profile brands – but are more agile and dynamic in structure and culture, and better able to offer more flexible terms, as well as the chance to shadow and try out different roles.
In our own company, we had to draw a line and acknowledge that trying to match 20-50 per cent salary hikes that larger industry players are offering is unsustainable. Rather than try to meet unrealistic remuneration terms, we now focus on fostering a culture that people want to be part of; and offering the chance to work from home – where a larger corporate culture might not allow this because of an over-zealous approach to locking down its IT systems.
Balancing the age/maturity of a company’s talent is important, too – so, if Millennials are prone to getting itchy feet within 1-2 years, there are already experienced senior PV staff to cover any gaps. Balancing the demographics also gives younger professionals the chance to shadow mentors; not just in their own field, but in neighbouring disciplines -to broaden their experience and take advantage of a more holistic opportunity to grow. So if someone comes out of university with a Pharmacy degree without being quite sure of the career route they want to take, they have an opportunity to feel their way into different areas before committing to specialisation.
Encouraging employee input
Something else that workplace newcomers tend to rate in employers is the ability to be heard, and gain experience with the latest tools and techniques. Smaller firms – biotech, or service providers like Arriello – can provide more of an entrepreneurial environment: one that fosters innovation, supported by structure. It isn’t just younger members of the team that appreciate this; those in their 40s, who might otherwise find themselves in a career rut, can relish the chance to broaden their horizons, push boundaries and try something new, so that they keep evolving and expanding their own skills and experience.
(We have a pot of cash set aside for process improvements and technology-enabled transformation, triggered by ideas from front-line team members. This gives people a sense of inclusion and buy-in, via the ability to see their ideas through. From the automation of international medical literature screening, to speech-enabled case reporting, we have taken these proposals and run with them, which has been thrilling for those responsible and kept them motivated and engaged.)
The skills crisis in our industry is unlikely to subside any time soon, but it is through new thinking that modest-sized organisations will succeed in overcoming talent shortfalls. The other option, of course, is to talk to partner service partners about how they might help fill any glaring skills gaps, or provide additional opportunities for valued employees to round out their experience.
About the author
Alan White is CEO of Arriello, a specialist global provider of innovative, high-impact market access, regulatory affairs & pharmacovigilance solutions and services for pharma and biotech firms primarily in Europe and North America.