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The talent shortage in life science R&D and how to stand out as an employer

4 Minutes

In the increasingly competitive life science market, many active candidates are engaging in...

In the increasingly competitive life science market, many active candidates are engaging in two or three processes at a time, and the most in-demand passive candidates are approached by droves of talent acquisition teams each month. In today’s job climate, employers can’t just advertise a role and expect the ideal candidate to apply. In fact, less than 1 in every 20 candidates we place come from an inbound application as a result of us publicising a role. For the small number of candidates who do come in through active recruitment channels, they face more choice than ever before and often have multiple processes ongoing. So how can you as an employer stand out and overcome the talent shortage life science R&D is experiencing?


The life science R&D talent shortage

​Competition for R&D employees is growing as the effects of the “Great Resignation” are now being felt at every level. Deloitte reports that we’re seeing many older workers opting for early retirement and that more than 40% of the global workforce are looking for new jobs, including 54% of Gen Z. Where this might seem like a positive for those looking to hire, a record number of people are leaving traditional work environments to pursue ‘passion projects’ or switching to a freelance career, and even high-level executives are leaving their jobs to spend time with their families.

Most R&D roles require a niche skillset, and with the ever-increasing skills gap, firms are finding it difficult to source senior candidates who fit the bill. The R&D space is highly competitive, and as the number of new projects increases, demand is still outweighing supply. One solution that has seen increasing popularity in recent times is that of collaborations and partnerships between specialist organisations.

For example, Oxford Biomedica and Microsoft entered an R&D collaboration in 2019. Their aim was to improve the yield and quality of next-generation gene therapy vectors using the cloud and machine learning.

However, you cannot solely rely on partnerships and collaborations to solve the R&D talent shortage. We are in an extremely competitive, candidate-led market, so to make your mark in the R&D space you, as an employer, must determine what else you can do to stand out from the crowd.


How can you stand out?

Join the remote working bandwagon and engage with freelancers

​Freelance work across all sectors is under increased demand with employees placing greater importance on flexibility and control than ever before. Even in areas such as R&D, which have been traditionally dominated by permanent opportunities, there has been an increase in firms leaning on freelance workers. This is partly driven by collaborations and partnerships shortening R&D timelines, and advancements in AI and machine learning creating different methods of discovery and ways of working. These developments create new roles and demand for skills, some allowing for remote working possibilities, now staff can be brought in on a temporary basis from abroad or remote areas to work on an R&D project without having to commit to a location.


This can be hugely beneficial for your R&D functions, especially while we’re experiencing a talent shortage. Becoming a more flexible organisation through remote work and shying away from on-site traditions will help you to stand out from the crowd, attracting more talent. Engaging freelancers will widen your talent pool, and combining this with your remote working opportunities will emphasise your flexibility. The ability to attract a larger pool of people when recruiting for the R&D team means a greater choice of high-quality candidates.

Engaging with freelancers won’t just help you attract more talent but will also help with your pipeline planning. Having a freelance-based team will allow you to precisely plan the R&D pipeline and timelines. Knowing the projects that are coming up and being able to specifically plan the skill sets that are required and length of time you’ll need them on your team is going to help you plan projects and potentially allocate resources more effectively.


Build a strong employer brand

75% of candidates will look into your reputation before they even consider an interview. Potential candidates want to feel like they can identify with who you are as a business; what you stand for, what your purpose is, and what it really means to be a member of your team. Taking control over your identity as a workplace may be one of the most effective ways to positively impact your talent pipeline.

So where do you start?

People buy from people. So, at an individual level ensure your internal hiring team and business leaders are sharing content that aligns with your company’s identity on their personal LinkedIn accounts. This is the ideal platform to showcase your commitment to innovation and research, and your dedication to the advancement of science and medicine. This is not to say you should ignore your efforts on company channels, 37% of candidates say they wouldn’t consider a role if they can’t find any information on the company. Use platforms like LinkedIn, Google for Business and Glassdoor to highlight how your business has contributed positively to the sector and the impact it has on your team. This will lead to increased recognition, aiding your journey of attracting top talent. Now, when potential hires are researching your company, they’ll get a better idea of who you are and the values the firm is built on, and you’ll be able to attract like-minded people.

Use your personal and corporate channels to provide consistent messaging of what your workplace has to offer. Talking about the benefits, culture, and opportunities are some of the most impactful ways to reach passive candidates. Tap into a candidate’s desires through effective messaging. This could be the difference between securing the top talent in the R&D field, or them joining your competitor. Discover more about effective messaging and what candidates want to know here.

Keep in mind that the top R&D talent will likely be in multiple different hiring processes. By ensuring that you have the distinguishing factor of an established employer brand, the likelihood of resonating with your target audience will increase and in turn encourage candidate buy-in.


Emphasise the impact of your work

Life science R&D professionals do not just fall into this line of work. They are motivated by the potential to make a significant impact on human health and well-being. Emphasise the impact of your organisation’s work on society and the potential for employees to contribute to cutting-edge research and innovation. By highlighting the impact of the work that is being done or has historically been completed, you can differentiate your organisation from your competitors and position yourself as a leader in the industry. People want to work for companies that are making a difference and have a positive impact on society, so ensure you highlight your work. Fold it into recruitment processes, interview discussion points and your employer branding messaging.

The talent shortage is being felt across the board, and with the R&D sector being particularly competitive, internal hiring teams are struggling to fill their roles. Partnering with life science recruitment specialists like us can help you to find the right talent quickly and efficiently. Our deep understanding of the industry and wide R&D talent pools can help you to find candidates who meet your specific requirements and fit your company culture. 

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