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What can life sciences organisations learn from the investment banking sector?

What can life sciences organisations learn from the investment banking sector?


What can life sciences organisations learn from the investment banking sector?
Last Updated: 26-Oct-2015

With the most recent public debate on drug pricing, government healthcare budgets under scrutiny, ever more rigorous compliance and transparency demands, and problematic patent cliffs, is the life sciences sector heading for a modern day crisis?  2020 will see a surge in healthcare demand precipitated by an aging population with chronic care needs, income growth in emerging markets, and expansion in health insurance globally, with the industry having to shift to a more efficient management of costs as pressure from payers, reimbursement challenges and development costs increase. Most importantly there will also be a growing shortage of highly skilled and specialised talent in the industry. All of this is causing even the most successful organisations to re-evaluate their strategic focus and priorities. What can be done to ensure the sector remains profitable and competitive?

Traditionally a particularly cash-rich industry, life sciences is consequently not one used to sustained and successful efficiency drives. Yet one potential strategy has been drawn into the discussion arena recently by a number of organisations to help keep the sector buoyant; talent management strategy. However, many industry players are arguably only paying lip-service to the benefits of employing a strong talent management initiative and are still reluctant to embrace some of the cutting edge innovation that they require to take off.

An industry-wide concern when it comes to the hiring of successful candidates is that most companies are currently searching for professionals in a very shallow talent pool. Quite simply, there is a war for talent. Adding to this is a shortage of STEM graduates entering the industry, many being tempted by the innovation and agility of the Technology Sector. There is not enough new blood entering the sector, and so large firms seem to be essentially hiring off each other. Failure to develop strong internal and diverse talent development programmes mean many will run the risk of not having a sustainable pipeline of diverse future leaders.

So how to resolve this problem and attract new talent, especially millennials who will make up 50% of the workforce by 2020 and be the leaders of the future. Research has shown that brand awareness matters to millennials especially when there is a homogenous employer brand epidemic sweeping the sector. Organisations simply stating something along the lines of, “we make powerful drugs and exist to save lives” – as many in the sector do – are not speaking to potential millennial employees in the way they need to. Recent research (Universum Talent Insight) has shown that Millennials who are interested in a career in healthcare and life sciences have different priorities than their peers. While they are all digital natives, 58% of millennials keen to enter the industry consider company websites as the most influential attraction channel. How do we ensure that we attract, engage and retain this key talent instead of it being syphoned off into other industries – such as IT and tech – because their employee value propositions and branding are so much stronger and more attractive? How do we win back this talent? One lesson we can learn from Google and Apple is that by hiring from contiguous sectors, life sciences could ensure that it keeps its finger on the pulse of top talent.

Merck must be commended on its recently launched LinkedIn Career website, which is vibrant and speaks to millennials, not focusing on pharmaceuticals and chemicals but science and technology.

However it may be that we could learn some of the most valuable talent management lessons from a much less obvious source than the major digital players of today. The financial crisis of 2008 left the investment banking sector facing similar problems to those now confronting life sciences, and it had to act quickly to stay afloat. Talent management strategies were swiftly put in place to help banks adapt to a new climate where efficiency would be king. Much work was put into revamping employer brands to enable and encourage hiring from other sectors outside of their industry, thus combatting the problem of a lack of emerging talent. And not only was this, but HR teams examined in detail exactly how much being spent on flexible and permanent workers, agency fees and compliance failures. Eyes were cast internally over labour demands, skill shortages and the ability of each bank to respond to fluctuations in supply and demand. And, on top of surviving the crash, these measures arguably made the sector stronger than ever.

One thing is for sure, as the industry and market demands increase, the ability for life science companies to remain compelling and attract, engage and retain top talent is paramount. The life sciences sector must think on its feet if it is to maintain its future profitability and attractiveness as a career choice. By engaging the audience it so desperately needs – the millennials it is losing out on due to superior employer branding – and mirroring the steps taken by the investment banking sector following its fall from grace, there is a well-trodden path to recovery marked out to be followed. Hiring from contiguous sectors outside of the industry and creating better internal development and leadership programmes could mark the difference between a struggle to stay afloat or sailing past competitors. Millennials will help propel a new health economy and shape the future of healthcare and with the war for talent raging – why wait and miss out?

- Hester Larkin, Global Client Partner, Alexander Mann Solutions