Attracting and Retaining Scientific Talent in a Complex, Competitive Industry
By Jim Datin, President and CEO, BioAgilytix
Finding the right talent is challenging for any organization in any industry, but when you operate in a technical field that requires highly skilled workers, it can be even more difficult. Back in the late 90s during the peak of the dot-com bubble, McKinsey & Co. conducted a study which revealed that talent – smart, sophisticated businesspeople who are technologically literate, globally astute, and operationally agile – would be the most important corporate resource over the coming 20 years, and the resource that would also be in shortest supply. From those findings they declared a “War for Talent” that, as predicted, is still being waged today. In fact, a new report by McKinsey found that employers in North America and Europe will require 16 to 18 million more college-educated workers in 2020 than will be available.
This shortage means that companies will be competing with one another for the foreseeable future to fill their open positions with top talent. And one place where this gap is most prevalent is in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)-related fields, where it is projected that 2.4 million jobs will go unfilled this year alone.
The Right Talent is Vital in STEM Fields
Organizations such as those within the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries conduct work that is highly innovative and also highly complex – essentially advancing science in ways that will transform human health – and therefore require employees with specific experience and skill sets that can rise to meet rapidly evolving scientific challenges. When you examine the productivity gap between average performers and high performers based on job complexity, it is easy to see that the stakes are higher in filling jobs like these that are considered to have “very high complexity”. The recent McKinsey study shows the productivity gap between high and average performers in a “low complexity” job is only at 50%; but for “very high complexity” jobs, the gap increases by an astronomical 800%. In short, choosing the wrong employees can cost scientific organizations time, money, and productivity.
The Critical Nature of Hiring for a CRO
Motivated and skilled people are the foundation of any successful company, but especially for a CRO, which is primarily providing services via employees that have specialized scientific expertise. It is critical for CRO laboratories to achieve the right blend of talent that is capable of producing high-quality bioanalytical results for their clients today, and that is prepared to support increased demands as the biologics field evolves. However, no one comes right out of their university programs knowing everything that needs to be known about the diverse and sophisticated techniques used in bioanalysis, and CROs need to strike the right balance of hiring those with experience and those with potential. Veteran professionals are most certainly needed to provide real-world expertise and perspectives, but they can also act as valuable mentors to younger talent. If CROs are willing to invest in bright, driven employees with strong fundamentals, and provide them with the tools and training needed to be successful, they can streamline hiring for increasingly senior positions by promoting internally as these employees become prepared for their next role. Internal mentorship programs can also help attract more seasoned talent that would be interested in sharing their experience to help shape the next generation of scientists.
The Impact of High Turnover Rates
Once great talent is brought into the organization, retention should become the focus. While last year the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry experienced an 18% turnover rate on average, that figure was about 25% for CROs. This level of turnover can be incredibly damaging for an organization providing outsourced services, as it can impact key factors that potential clients take into account like project team expertise, project timelines, and especially project continuity. A lack of continuity during bioanalytical studies creates knowledge gaps, which increases room for error and may ultimately result in timeline delays from having to essentially re-train new employees on the project, or issues with data quality from lack of consistency in how the work is being conducted. Because high turnover rates can be so impactful, CROs must continually focus on ways to engage and retain their most important resource—their people. Ongoing employee training and support ensures team members not only have the scientific skills and tools needed to complete complex projects, but that they also feel confident, content, fittingly challenged, and valued in the workplace.
BioAgilytix’s Approach to Hiring and Retention
Like all CROs, we recognize the need for premium scientific talent. We are discerning in our hiring process and only bring in employees that we feel will be motivated to learn and grow within the company – whether they already have decades of experience or are just beginning their professional careers. We believe that professional development and valuable continuing education programs are useful ways to get all employees up to speed on everything they need to know to progress the complex large molecules projects that BioAgilytix specializes in. Our focus on employee development allows us to hire people with tremendous potential from a variety of scientific and educational backgrounds. Our investment in these individuals does not end after initial onboarding; much of our ongoing focus relates to empowering them to continually grow in their roles. As an organization, we are committed to supporting each and every employee so that they can be as successful as possible. Our approach to hiring and retention is working; as an organization, BioAgilytix has an over 90% retention rate, compared to an industry average of about 75%.
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