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How Can You Find Candidates to Fill the Life Sciences Skills Gap?

20 April 2021

By Jay Freeman

How Can You Find Candidates to Fill the Life Sciences Skills Gap?

Life sciences jobs have never been in higher demand.

In fact, to meet the demand of up to 133,000 jobs across the sector, the way the life sciences sector is recruiting may be set to change, according to the Life Sciences 2030 Skills Strategy report.

Having already achieved an 8% increase in employment and a 3% increase in annual turnover in the last ten years, it’s no surprise why the job demand is high.

This week we’ll be discussing what you need to know about the life sciences skill gaps, and how you can go about finding candidates who fill these skill gaps.

What do you need to know about the life sciences skill gaps?

The success of the life sciences sector is closely tied with its ability to recruit the best possible workforce, in particular, one with a variety of critical and transferable skills.

Though there are a number of entry points for candidates into life sciences, from academic education to career agility, there are a number of long-term and short-term skills requirements across the board.

There are skill gaps in specific roles and across the sector at large.

Making the most of digitalisation

Upskilling to meet the demands of digitalisation isn’t just a necessity, it’s also a competitive advantage.

A particular area of focus is data science skills, such as data modelling and programming skills (such as those necessary in building programs and infrastructure for medicines manufacturing).

Life sciences technologies have been expanding rapidly in the last few years, such as next generation sequencing, analytical chemistry, stem cells technology, drug delivery and downstream processing.

More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has been the catalyst to digitisation across the life sciences sector; 77% of companies surveyed outlined a need for a centralised data management system, which means that your organisation will require candidates that can potentially help to build these processes.

Adding in the need for specialised engineering skills such as automation, process integration and CAD design, and IT functional areas such as bioinformatics, 3D printing and artificial intelligence, and you have a long list of gaps in digital and computational skills.

Finding candidates to fill these gaps might seem like an impossible task, but in a digital age, finding candidates who are experienced in data modelling, programming or data may not be as difficult as you might think.

For example, back in 2011, players of an online game called Foldit (which allows players to create new shapes of proteins by randomly folding digital molecules on their computers) took just a few days to produce the M-PMV retroviral protease.

Scientists had been attempting to determine the precise structure of the enzyme for years, and the result has been an important step in the development of anti-AIDS drugs.

Transferable skills are extremely valuable towards filling these skill gaps, particularly regarding digital skills, and candidates across this landscape can be sourced by focusing on transferable skills from a range of disciplines.

Maximising statistical literacy

Maximising the benefits of larger and richer datasets in the life sciences sector requires more health economists, and those with strong statistical literacy skills.

In biomedical research, rich health care data is key to its innovation, and as new methods of cross-organisational collaboration data take hold, there is an increased need for statistical literacy to not only produce research, but to utilise the secondary use of digital health data.

Amazon Web Services launched a service called Data Exchange, unlocking the data sources that have, for the most part, been exclusive to single organisations.

According to Forbes, statistical literacy is key to modernising business, and is a popular skill amongst start-up teams. So, by pivoting your focusing to those who have previously operated in a start-up, your organisation can benefit from inherent skills that candidates may show.

A collaborative business model is on the horizon for the life sciences sector, which requires organisations to find candidates that have strong statistical literacy, whether by supporting training opportunities during the onboarding process, or looking for more intangible skills.

Defining leadership and communication

In order to promote the digitalisation of the life sciences sector, defining and promoting excellence of leadership is necessary across different roles.

Finding candidates with strong leadership skills can benefit cross-team and cross-disciplinary working – particularly when considering the rapid growth of life sciences and how this has contributed to a reduced population of experienced leaders that can coach others.

Part of innovating is communicating, in particular, ensuring that advancements within the sector are actively broadcasted, which is why communication skills should be a highly sought-after transferable skill.

Candidates with strong communication skills have the advantage of transferring their skills towards improving the sector’s ability to communicate new technological advancements in medicine e.g., through promoting these achievements through engaging content.

A survey found that 73% of employers request that candidates show strong interpersonal skills, which suggests that as time progresses, a wider pool of talent may begin to develop these skills, which your organisation can then tap into.

How can you find candidates to fill these gaps?

Soft skills, professional skills, leadership, emotional intelligence – these are all terms used to describe skills that may be essential for career success, rather than specific technical or academic competencies.

With all of the aforementioned skill gaps comes a need to fill them with candidates who may not have the academic or technical background, but have the soft skills to make a positive impact.

Define the skills 

Though a lot of job roles across the life sciences sector require skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving and inter-disciplinary experience, the job adverts advertising these roles often focus more on academic/technical background.

Stating specific soft skills and how they relate to the position (e.g., programming skills – medical device teams looking to automate robotics capabilities) can ensure candidates with relevant skills, who might not have the conventional background, know they are still a potential fit for the role.

Be concise about the skills, rather than prioritising educational degrees or how many years of experience a candidate might have.

LinkedIn highlights that, on average, candidates only spend 14 seconds reading a job description. So, you need to ensure that the information in the job posting is concise, accurate and clear in order to leverage those vital 14 seconds.

Structure your process

It’s not just job ads that need to be tailored to accommodate candidates who have the skills to bridge the gap, but the interview process, too.

Make sure that your interview process is structured to clearly identify and convey the skills a candidate will require for the role, or the skills they can build upon within the role, so that the role is clearly defined for their abilities.

Having opportunities for employees to develop their skills at all levels of your organisation is also a great incentive when approaching candidates who are needed to fill skill gaps.

The future looks exciting for the life sciences sector, at a time where innovation and expansion are at an all-time high, which is why bridging the skill gaps to fill the additional 133,000 jobs the sector is set to create over the next ten years is so essential.

If you’re looking for the candidates to fill skill gaps in your organisation, we can help.
Find out more here.

1. Read the Life Sciences 2030 Skills Strategy report.

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