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Industry focus: Talent in Pharma

Our third, in a series of industry-specific reviews, focuses on the talent landscape in the pharmaceutical industry. Leave a comment or contact us at hello@talentinsightgroup.co.uk to get your copy of the full pharma talent guide. 

The Pharmaceutical industry is emerging from two years of intense firefighting during COVID-19, facing record highs in employee turnover and a need to recruit employees with highly sought-after digital skills.

A recent survey found the top 3 concerns for the industry are talent scarcity and people leaving the workforce (28%), inflation (24%), and geopolitical uncertainty (21%).

While fears of a recession have led to layoffs in other industries, the constant demand for life-saving products means the life sciences and pharma industry is largely recession-proof. However, the industry is not immune to the inflationary pressures in the wider economy. Between April and July 2023, GlobalData reported a 7% decrease in pharmaceutical job postings and a considerable fall in those relating to future studies.

Alongside these reductions, there has been a fourfold increase in the demand for those with generative AI skills as the industry shifts to AI-driven discovery and at-scale automation. Still, reports suggest the current pool of pharma digital talent is at least 14 per cent lower than is needed. The digitisation of work has created an environment where high-tech skills are in demand in new areas, resulting in a digital skills gap.

One of the fastest-growing areas of investment for companies today is digital specialists. Overall, 73% of life sciences and pharma leaders are budgeting more to hire these workers to support their talent initiatives — up from 57% in 2022. One study found that as of June 2022, 70.1% of pharma companies were hiring for data analytics roles, compared to 65% a year before.

However, recent research found that in the range of STEM subjects, graduates with biological science degrees were the least likely to transition into roles related to their science degrees, citing salary as a major reason.

“One of the big issues is that the jobs that [life sciences companies] are so concerned about filling for economic growth are not very attractive in terms of what they offer graduates. Fewer than half of people with STEM degrees work in highly-skilled STEM jobs at any time after they graduate.”

Dr Patrick White, the associate professor in quantitative research methods at the University of Leicester

While the ONS has reported an increase in annual growth in regular pay, there is a wide disparity between life sciences wages and those of other industries, like the financial sector, which discourages many graduates from choosing this route.

Meanwhile, employee turnover in the industry is at a record high of 20.6%. The pandemic has led two-thirds of employees to reflect on their work, with 82% of pharma and biotech workers saying finding fulfilment in the work they do every day was important to them and 72% saying their goal at work is to feel fulfilled in what they do. Highly fulfilled employees plan on staying at their organisations three years longer than unfulfilled employees, and the nature of the industry provides a simple advantage over many other industries —helping people live longer, healthier lives is a compelling mission for any candidate. However, nearly 1 in 3 pharma employees don’t feel fulfilled at work, making them almost four times more likely to look for another job and more than three times as likely to leave within the year. 

To reduce employee turnover and build a value proposition that can attract talent to the industry, employers must shift the focus from continuous improvement and internal processes to the longer-term external challenges that connect with talent. Finding fulfilment at work is a critical part of the employee experience and one that the industry is well-placed to meet. However, 1 in 3 employees in the sector report not finding this in their roles, and as a result, they are almost four times as likely to look for another position.

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