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Talent War in the Biomedical Sciences Sectors

10 Jun
SCIENTEC CEO ARTICLE IN STRAITS TIMES - With globalisation comes the global talent war. Is your HR strategy ‘future ready’ to join this battle? The right candidate is no longer defined by geographic location but by his or her capabilities. Many companies are now sourcing globally for the right talent and in some cases, have based them in their preferred location, if job function and time zone allow, to overcome talent shortage challenges or to fill the role with the best possible candidate.

In the biomedical sciences sector the demand and supply gap is getting wider. This sector includes biotech, medical technology, pharmaceuticals and healthcare industries. Expiring patents, advanced technologies, and the demand for improved healthcare have resulted in a sharp growth in the biomedical and supporting sectors. This has led to a global shortage of highly specialised professionals. Domestic competitors have increasingly found themselves hunting alongside large global corporations for the same small pool of limited talent. In addition to a shortage in experienced candidates, the sharp increase of home grown biomedical businesses has added more challenges to talent competition. This talent competition is particularly intense in Asia, due to many US and European companies moving their R&D and manufacturing facilities or setting up new sales and marketing operations in Asia.

There are more job openings than qualified candidates to fill them. In Singapore there are 1.4 positions available for every job seeker. With the aging population and low fertility, this situation is expected to get worst.

Hot Jobs and High Salaries

In Asia’s biomedical sciences scene, some of the ‘hot jobs’ include Medical Director, Medical Affairs, Drug and Lab Regulatory, Clinical Research Manager, Project Manager, Medical Writer, Healthcare professional, Pre-Sales and Sales professional for medical device, lab instruments/supplies and pharmaceutical products. In addition, various pharma/ biopharma/ medical device manufacturing experienced engineers, cGMP and validation consultants/engineers, Quality Control/ Assurance engineers, Bioprocess, Public Relationship and Marketing (with pharmacy background) scientists with more than five years relevant experience, and IP/ commercialisation managers/ executives are in high demand.

Highest demands are for Pharmacy and Medical background professionals. On top of the already large unfilled positions in hospitals and healthcare services, the sharp growth coming from clinical research, continuous medical education, pharma related services such as PR/ marketing, healthcare publishing, event, conferences and information technology further stretch the supply and demand gap. Many of such positions can only be filled by certified professionals either due to governmental regulations or technical competency that is needed to best support the role.

Because of the supply and demand gap, such candidates are in a good position to negotiate for higher salaries. For example, companies are now often willing to pay a candidate with three to five years experience, a salary level normally reserved for someone with five to eight years experience. For some critical positions a 30% to 50% jump in salary is not uncommon. This is especially true for candidates from lower cost countries such as India, Thailand, and the Philippines. Pressure from fierce domestic competition and wealthy international players is forcing companies in these countries to increase salaries. Sometimes, even an underperformer gets a 10% increment by jumping to the next ignorant company.

A different approach to talent acquisition

Specialised and talented people are often the key source of competitive advantage within the biomedical sciences industry. So when faced with a scarcity of candidates for critical positions, biomedical sciences companies need to employ new strategies to overcome the challenges of finding and attracting top performers. This is especially so with overseas companies competing for the same group of talent with their global talent sourcing strategy.

In talent crunch recruitment, spending tens of thousands dollars on advertising campaigns, attractive expatriate packages, stock options and other benefits are not the only methods to acquire talented professionals. Successfully hiring in this competitive environment requires companies to look at new strategies to find and attract top performers.

Define the Talent Needed

Hiring managers are often guilty of creating a list of dream requirements for the ideal candidate, hoping to find a perfect fit for the long-term needs of the company. Unfortunately, this method often results in a long recruitment cycle, high costs, and low placement success, especially for positions facing a critical talent shortage. This approach is even less successful during cross-country hiring where differences in corporate culture, education systems and job responsibilities mean the desired combination of competencies or experience simply may not exist.

Employees are now staying less than five years with a company, and increasingly two to three years has become the norm in key roles due to the attraction from competitors globally. Therefore when defining the requirements, it is necessary to ask for the essential skills needed for today and separate them from the nice-to-haves. This approach could increase the pool of targeted candidates and optimise salary cost efficiencies.

Encourage Referrals

Employees and industry friends are a goldmine of information on top talent. Organisations should consider offering a range of rewards to employees who can refer talented professionals to the company.

Use Effective PR and Marketing Tools

Various candidate led generation methods include on campus recruitment drives, corporate websites, data mining, and job site advertisements. Effective public relations strategies can generate significant publicity for a company and create high brand awareness and product interest. These in turn add to the pull factors to attract the right talent.

Leverage on Expertise

When looking for talented individuals in high demand, biomedical sciences companies can make use of executive and specialist search firms which focus on the industry and have sufficient reach into both local and overseas markets. These firms know where the right competencies can be found and target their search more effectively. They have greater experience in understanding the key influences on a candidate’s decision-making process and can work with companies to create attractive pull factors. They also understand the challenges hiring managers face and are able to anticipate potential stumbling blocks and develop better recruitment strategies for such positions.

Use a “Pull” Approach to Target Headhunted Candidates

With candidates now asking “what’s in it for me?” instead of stating “this is what I have to offer”, biomedical sciences companies need to change their approach to talent acquisition and interview style. The interview approach used for headhunted candidates should differ from that used for job seekers actively applying for positions. Non Sales hiring managers and HR personnel often have little training in selling the opportunity and the company. They need to understand the importance of building relationships with targeted top performers and invest sufficient time understanding the compelling motivations that would trigger a person to consider new employment.

Good Recruitment Practice

Companies that are serious about recruitment should develop what I call ‘Good Recruitment Practice’ (GRP). This is a recruitment Standard Operating Procedure and can be applied to all critical recruitment projects. Often many recruitment projects fail due to lack of GRP rather than lack of suitable talent. GRP includes proper documentation of feedback, evaluation and market research information such as salaries and motivations and use of competency matrix, scorecard, requirements gathering with various hiring managers involved. GRP also takes advantage of combined technical/ functional expertise of hiring managers and human resource personnel, finalising KPIs for the position prior to execution of the recruitment, developing “pull factors”, minimizing involvement of ego and politics, communicating and trouble shooting.

The same candidate profile may be short listed or excluded depending on who conducts the first interview. Once the critical talent requirements have been confirmed, the same person should conduct all first interviews, to ensure consistency and reduce the likelihood of excluding qualified candidates, especially for hard to find roles. To avoid conflicting assessments based on different sets of values, multiple interviewers should use a competency scorecard to objectively assess the candidate on clearly defined criteria. This makes the process transparent and ensures a record is kept of the process. Time management in the recruitment process should be taken seriously. Speed is essential when recruiting in critical talent shortage areas. The period between identifying suitable candidates to first interview, should be 3 days. First interview to final interview should be within 2 weeks. Reference checks and offer negotiation should be completed within the next 2 weeks. Some companies with sufficient resources and effective recruitment processes complete the entire recruitment process within 2 weeks.

However, quality must not be compromised by time. Therefore if talent is valued as a competitive advantage by the company, hiring should be a full time project. Hiring is not solely the responsibility of a hiring or human resource manager. Hiring managers need to provide sufficient information on the technical and functional expertise required and give constructive feedback on interviewed candidates. Human resource managers need to advise hiring managers on HR related evaluation and work with them to develop the job description. Often instead of taking ownership and responsibility of the recruitment project, HR and Hiring Managers blame each other for failures. In reality, both parties are often overloaded with other tasks and fail to follow GRP or give attention to it.

Retaining Top Performers

Besides developing strong talent acquisition strategies, companies need to invest even more resources in effective retention strategies. The enticements used to lure top performers can be used equally well to encourage them to stay. Challenging roles, flexi hours, retention bonus, training bonds and benefits, and adequate training and support in times of transition can result in your top performers feeling they have further things to accomplish at your company, rather than at someone else’s.

Karen Tok, Founder and CEO, ScienTec Consulting
© 2008 ScienTec Consulting Pte Ltd

The article as published in The Straits Times Apr 2008: