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Pharma’s War for Talent

Updated: Jul 27, 2022

Words by Saskia Pronk

Over 4.5 million people are currently employed in the global pharmaceutical industry.

However, when acquiring new talent, 76% of hiring managers struggle to find candidates whose skills match the job requirements and, according to the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, 9 out of 10 UK companies are struggling to recruit for highly skilled roles.

Many trends are shaping the industry’s ‘War for Talent’, but what priorities define pharma’s search for new talent and how, in a rapidly evolving business landscape, can the hiring process remain agile and adaptable to keep businesses productive, innovative, and successful?

The increasingly matrixed environment in which pharma operates is leading companies to have a predilection towards individuals with broader business degrees, such as MBAs, and those with advantageous digital and data capabilities. Companies are increasingly demonstrating their desire for experts from a defined field who can also adapt their skills for a cross-functional setting.

Zach Stamp, Director at the life science recruitment firm, EPM Scientific, illustrates this trend in respect to medical affairs executives: “A modern medical director will not only need to have the scientific knowledge to engage effectively with key opinion leaders and clinical development. They need to understand the commercial impact of pricing and reimbursement, have the soft sales ability of an account manager, and be able to articulate key points of poster developments to their marketing colleagues.” This skillset, all while staying closely acquainted with the latest regulatory developments to ensure compliance within the field, can prove hard to find.

76% of hiring managers struggle to find candidates whose skills match the job requirements

What’s more, with 2018 seeing the first of many FDA-approved digital therapeutics amid the seismic digital influx into all areas of the business, those individuals able to use digital platforms to automate tasks are finding themselves in higher demand. Stamp explains: “We see this across every stage of the clinical development process, whether this be programmers writing algorithms to speed up target identification, engineers helping build wearable tech into clinical trials, analysts rapidly summarising large-scale data, or commercial professionals who are using data to drive top-line sales.”

Fiona Ciccioni, Chief HR Officer, AstraZeneca, looks at recruitment prospectively beyond candidates’ current skillsets: “As a company looking to push the barriers of science, we can predict many of the technical skills that will be required in the future. Now, more than ever, it is vital for us to assess candidates on their future potential and their learning agility, as well as their current skills.”

Considering this outlook, Cicconi describes AstraZeneca’s ideal employee: “Someone who is focussed on continuously learning and building mastery, someone who can work within an agile environment, but also, someone who can add something unique to the diversity of experience we already have within the company.”

With just one or two out of 100 applicants securing these competitive positions, recruitment can prove time-consuming; however, new technologies are leveraging the function. Much like marketing has become data-driven, predictive analytics are colliding with traditional recruiting, offering more accurate and time-saving solutions to assess both the cultural and technical fit of potential candidates.

With just one or two out of 100 applicants securing these competitive positions, recruitment can prove time-consuming

Specifically, AI can not only free up recruiter’s time by reviewing hundreds of applications before the recruiter even sees them, but can also remove certain aspects of unconscious bias. While AI can’t replace human interactions, Stamp describes how it can better inform recruiters by assigning ‘scores’ to candidates based on their likelihood of meeting job specifications through assessing CVs and other relevant experience, “Augmented writing services analyse and score job descriptions. Equipped with the right language, we can attract talent our competitors do not have the opportunity to see.”

The HR function must stay agile and adapt to help identify those who will not only meet specifications, but add value, and integrate synchronously with company culture. Once the ideal characteristics are defined, adopting technologies such as AI screening will prove advantageous to companies looking for those wider talent pools and untapped skillsets to keep business innovative and successful. “Moving jobs is a huge commitment on both sides – therefore, a flexible, efficient hiring process is critical to ensure that the needs of the candidate are also balanced to your own”, deduces Stamp.

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