Number one hiring challenge in pharma and biotech? Securing scarce talent.
There’s no doubt that the past few years have been filled challenges, change and crisis management for many in the talent acquisition (TA) community. We navigated hugely volatile hiring demands, we supported our teams to enable remote working, redesigned processes and implemented new technologies. And in much of the pharmaceutical, biotech and life sciences sector we hired more talent and we hired faster than ever before.
At the start of 2020 AMS launched a research project with Aptitude Research to support our whitepaper ‘Transforming Talent Acquisition for the Future’. We asked hundreds of TA leaders what their biggest challenges were and 63% told us that their number one challenge was finding and attracting quality talent. A few months later and in the midst of crisis management we asked the same question, this time 68% of respondents told us that finding and attracting quality talent was their biggest challenge.
As recruitment leaders we have a myriad of priorities; we’re focussed on candidate and hiring manager experience, driving down time to hire and often cost of hire. Many of us are optimising workforce planning, looking to impact quality of hire through enhanced assessments or supporting the deployment of new technologies. There are so many strategic initiatives we wish to pursue but fundamentally our sole purpose is to find the best talent for our businesses and as our research demonstrated, that remains the largest challenge that we face. So, I thought I would share some expert advice on how to best secure scarce talent.
What is scarce talent?
Perhaps this is an obvious question but for clarity let’s explore what we mean by scarce talent. Scarce talent is likely to include your most niche and rare skill sets – a quick poll of some of my recruiters delivers fairly predictable results, Medical Affairs, Regulatory Affairs, Research Science, all roles for which talent is generally known to be limited and competition always high.
But scarce talent isn’t limited to niche skills, it is also quite simply roles for which demand outstrips supply.
A manufacturing plant in a remote location will likely require talent which may be abundant elsewhere but is significantly scarce within a commutable distance to the plant. An easy way to categorise your scarce talent would be to look at your historical time to hire, it’s logical to assume that on the whole the roles that take you the longer to fill are those roles for which talent is scarce.
Looking at the c. 23,000 hires we made for our major outsourcing clients within this sector in a year, we see that Medical and Regulatory Affairs are indeed some of the roles for which our time to hire was significantly longer but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Of the c. 800 Medical & Regulatory Affairs roles that we hired for our clients, we saw a global average time to hire of c. 65 days but then a huge difference in the time to hire between countries, with time to hire in China and Israel for example averaging significantly less and a number of countries including Australia, Brazil and Spain recording time to hire of > 100 days. So any strategy for hiring scarce talent needs to be localised.
Three strategies to secure scarce talent
Regardless of the role, there is no silver bullet to identifying, attracting and securing the best scarce talent but there are three key strategies which, when deployed effectively, will absolutely give you competitive advantage.
1. Candidate centricity – If you wish to hire the best talent, quickly, then you have to put your candidates first in every aspect of your hiring strategies. Sounds simple? Consider the following:
- If you’re struggling, or likely to struggle, to find scarce talent in a specific location then to what extent can you influence the Hiring Manager to change the location, or even the country? What’s stopping the Hiring Manager from making the role a virtual role with travel into a specific location when required?
- When advertising a role, to what extent are you truly adapting your job postings to appeal to the specific talent that you’re looking to engage with? If you’re seeking scarce R&D talent, to what extent are you explaining exactly why your company should appeal to that talent more than your competitors?
- When it comes to your hiring processes, have you tailored the process for the scarce talent that you’re so desperate to engage with? Are you investing significant time and effort in engaging with passive talent and then simply asking them to apply online via your career site because your processes require that to happen?
- How much are you caring for your candidates once they’re in a recruitment process? If a hiring manager has no availability to interview for two weeks then what are you doing to influence that? How regularly are your recruiters checking in with that candidate to ensure that they are comfortable with the delays? How many candidates do you lose because the process is taking too long?
2. Market insight – In order to really understand how to secure scarce talent your hiring team needs to have tailored market insight at their fingertips. I can’t tell you how much of a game-changer market insight has been for our recruiters and sourcers around the world. Imagine the following:
- Before your Recruiter (and ideally Sourcer) meet with a Hiring Manager to discuss their requirements, how much more consultative would that meeting be if they were able to present a view of the competitive nature of hiring (demand) and the availability of talent (supply)?
- If we wish to influence the location of a role or even the salary being offered, how much more effective would it be if we had true insight in to where the best talent is located and average remuneration packages?
- Before allowing your team to post a role to external channels wouldn’t it be valuable to look at historical insight to understand how you have hired that talent before? If 90% of your historical hires for a particular role have come from internal talent or through employee referrals wouldn’t you want to focus your energy (and investment) on those channels first?
Effective market insight used to be a rare luxury, something we invested in when we were under pressure or when pushed by the business for more insight. Whilst it’s not yet a commodity it is easily accessible, affordable and an invaluable investment.
3. Specialist sourcing skills and technology – if you have yet to introduce a candidate sourcing role to your function then now is the time to do it. Your recruiters today may be highly skilled at searching for passive talent, they may be brilliant advisers to your hiring managers, they may be excellent interviewers, but they are unlikely to be all three. Specialist sourcers empowered with the latest SaaS tools will deliver huge value for you:
- Adept at using innovative tools to uncover passive scarce talent within competitor companies or within other sectors
- Trained to sell your vision and brand, to engage in an exemplary way, sometimes over a long period of time to court the talent that you need today and in the future (utilising talent pools for proactive pipelining)
- The latest sourcing tools will add AI to make the discovery of talent easier, some will learn from previous searches, some will plug in to your ATS to search against historical applicants, some will rank candidates based on suitability.
- By segmenting candidate sourcing as a stand-alone role, you will also free up capacity for your recruiters to add far greater value to your business. Your recruiters can now invest more time, utilising the market insight you are providing, to be true talent-advisors to your business.
In my next few articles, I will expand upon these points with examples of where we have utilised market insight, innovative sourcing tools and a candidate centric approach to secure scarce talent for our clients.
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