The life sciences sector is under pressure, with organisations battling over a relatively small pool of talent. But how can this issue be addressed, and does the answer lie in creating talent pools of ‘future skills’?

In April, Ochre House carried out a think-tank on this topic, looking at how businesses can deal with the challenges presented by the talent crisis in the industry. Delegates came from organisations such as Bupa, Amgen, and UCB, and it was made clear that there are several key factors contributing to the challenge, such as a lack of emerging talent, healthcare reforms, and a slowdown in productive scientific activity. So what can be done to tackle the issues?

Discussions among the delegates centred around three key areas.

Defining critical skills

The think-tank revealed that, only a relatively small number of participants had actually undertaken what they felt was a robust analysis of expected future skills gaps. And of those that had, it had almost exclusively been limited to the HIPO and business leader level.

On top of this, it was made clear that there’s still a debate as to whether organisations in this sector are focusing too heavily on emerging talent, and perhaps neglecting the potential of individuals at the later stages of their career. Yes, ‘new blood’ is important when it comes to innovation in an organisation, but it’s also important not to have a sole focus on this.

Another important point was raised that perhaps the industry is limiting itself by relying too heavily on the traditional hire. There needs to be much greater diversity, for instance by bringing in people from ‘creative’ backgrounds, as well as scientific ones, to avoid the concept of ‘group think’.

Engagement with talent

On the whole, there was positive feeling about the theory of talent pooling and pipelining, however, there was doubt around how possible it was to put it into action. For pooling and pipelining to work, engagement needs to be ongoing, and perhaps even more importantly, it has to be relevant. It’s about so much more than simply posting a job, and requires the continuous involvement of line managers.

Building the business case

Perhaps the greatest consensus amongst the delegates was around the belief that pipelining and pooling could only be effectively implemented if a clear and compelling business case could be built for it. Organisations often struggle to think about the future given the demands of the present, and there can be a general unwillingness to invest in such processes.  

So can we avert the looming talent crisis? Well it’s clear that engagement is key. Buy-in at all levels is essential – although not necessarily by every single stakeholder – and clear communication is needed throughout the whole organisation. Yes, HR professionals have a responsibility, but without input from all involved, any efforts made are likely to fail.

And it isn’t only about engaging within your organisation, but with emerging talent as early as is possible. To do this, it’s important to ensure that material is directly relevant to the target individual’s development stage.

Recognising that the best talent may not always be the most obvious is also key. So demonstrate what options the industry can offer to the very best people in a range of fields, and not simply ‘straight science’ areas.

It’s a complex issue, but with the right approaches and a view to the future, you will be at a distinct competitive advantage. For more information on this topic, you can find our whitepaper here.