Securing top talent in a dynamic healthcare market

Sales & Marketing
securing top talent

The pharma talent market can be a tricky thing to navigate. When the economy is in full swing and plenty of open positions are available, it's relatively easy to find the right person or role to fit your needs. However, the threat of an economic downturn can initiate an unwelcome cycle of budget constraints across organisations, reducing hiring and investment.

Understanding the implications of the current economic environment for pharma companies and employees who might be finding their staffing situation in a shake-up was the subject of a recent pharmaphorum podcast, sponsored by Advanced Clinical, where the company’s SVP of strategic resourcing, Steve Matas, and VP of global talent and client delivery, James Nyssen, discussed recent report findings on the current personnel dynamics in pharma.

As opportunities dwindle and layoffs loom, the market for both contract and permanent talent is dealt a significant blow. Navigating this dynamic shift is certainly challenging, but, as the Advanced Clinical team notes, these challenges can also set the stage for new, innovative strategies and, ultimately, organisational success.

Overview of the economic landscape

The pharmaceutical industry, often hailed as a haven of stability, hasn't escaped the economic tremors shaking the world. A cautious investment climate has cast a chill on R&D funding and, with investors tightening their purse strings, the sector faces a stark reality: prioritise, prune, and adapt.

The consequences of this shift are rippling through the talent market. Alongside a pronounced increase in M&A activity as firms consolidate resources, R&D pipelines are taking a hit, with companies pausing projects, trimming workforce, and even shuttering operations altogether.

“That [changing economic climate] has an impact on the employment community, and the people that are working on those programmes,” explained Matas during the podcast. “Over the last year or so in the US alone, we've had close to 200 companies do layoffs in that community, and some of them are very extensive. So, that's made it challenging for the market and for some of the employees that are in that world as well.”

Interestingly, while past economic slumps triggered talent market adjustments, this downturn holds a unique twist. Nyssen expanded upon this idea in a post-podcast interview, explaining that in previous economic downturns the R&D department in big pharma companies managed to emerge relatively unscathed. However, this does not appear to be the case now.

“[With previous downturns], the R&D side was pretty much untouched,” he said, “even to the extent where there was increased investment on that side of the business.

“This time, they've shrunk that bit so much, and I don't think there's a huge amount more to shrink. It's not even necessarily a reduction in headcount, but it's also a geographic relocation option with that headcount.”

Changing personnel dynamics

Economic fluctuations can cast a long shadow over the pharma industry's talent pool, resulting in a peculiar paradox for talent acquisition teams. While a wave of skilled individuals from smaller, cash-strapped companies appears on the horizon, a simultaneous "safety first" mentality grips the broader workforce. Employees, understandably wary of uncertain times, become reluctant to leave their "safe" harbours, clinging to familiar shores even amidst stagnation.

“When people see redundancies, when they see companies rationalising their employees, they are less keen to be moving,” said Nyssen. “It's making people risk-averse, stopping them from making decisions that they would've made quite easily a few years ago.”

“You even see it inside the organisation itself, where managers are trying their best to hold on to people,” added Matas. “So, it does kind of freeze the market. Yes, there are people displaced and there are more people in the market looking for work, but you'd be surprised at how low that number really is.”

This hesitation creates a double-edged sword: companies work to retain their key talent, fearing departures, while facing a shrunken pool of active seekers. This talent drought impacts not just immediate hiring needs, but the future pipeline of skilled professionals. For Nyssen, one key concern is the stalled onboarding of junior talent. With companies hesitant to invest in training during economic tremors, he remarked that we risk widening the future skills gap. This could lead to what he described as a "war for talent" once the tide turns, pushing competition and recruitment costs to even greater heights.

However, this period of paralysis also presents an opportunity for rethinking talent strategies. Both companies and employees are utilising this pause to reassess their priorities and methods. Companies can focus on fostering internal development programmes and nurturing existing talent, while individuals can upskill and refine their value propositions. This introspective period, though born of instability, holds the potential for a more resilient and adaptable talent ecosystem in the long run.

Strategies for navigating economic uncertainty

While the challenges of economic fluctuation remain, amid this uncertainty a vibrant opportunity blooms. For companies willing to shed the rigidity of the past and embrace a new paradigm, attracting top talent becomes not just possible, but a strategic imperative.

“Be open-minded,” said Nyssen. “Don't get stuck just doing what you've always done. Be open-minded to new types and styles of engagement. Be open-minded to work within a functional service provider. If you've worked within Big Pharma, be open-minded to work within a smaller biotech setting. The skills and experience of some of these people that are coming onto the market might be invaluable.”

For both Matas and Nyssen, a key element of navigating this changing landscape lies in flexibility. In a world where geographic borders blur and the definition of "office" stretches beyond four walls, embracing alternative models like temporary assignments, permanent placements, and even contracted work opens doors to a wider talent pool, each candidate a puzzle piece waiting to be slotted into the right project.

“We just try to be really flexible with the way that we're looking at hiring people and delivering talent to the client,” said Matas. “Whether that's somebody working permanently for us at a couple of different clients or with us, maybe taking on a little more risk and having them be an impermanent employee, and then we can move them from project to project.

“Where companies might have gone, might have fully outsourced particular pieces of work in the past, we're seeing many more conversations about how we can do that in a different way.”

But flexibility alone isn't enough. In this digital age, human connection remains an important feature of modern working. Particularly, as Nyssen explained, for those new to the industry.

“It's a lot easier for them to learn new skills, learn the industry - learn from people that have been in the business for a long time, our experts - if they're sitting right side by side and they're just learning through conversations and lunchtime talking,” he said.

Hybrid models, then, become the bridge, weaving together the convenience of remote work with the irreplaceable magic of face-to-face interaction.

Final thoughts

In these unpredictable times, maintaining momentum in the healthcare talent market is vital, but can be challenging. However, as Matas and Nyssen highlighted, disruptions can be minimised. By partnering with an organisation that specialises in clinical research and has access to a deep talent pool, companies can find the right professional for unique job requirements, whether for contract or permanent positions.

Creating strong relationships is invaluable against a backdrop of evolving personnel dynamics, where opportunities may be limited. A robust network can become the gateway to career advancements and unforeseen job openings. As Nyssen affirms: "If you're out of work, you need to make sure your network knows you're not working, knows you're available, and knows you're out there."

Moreover, Matas emphasises the value of working with recruiters, as well as actively engaging with various professionals: "The more relationships you can build is just going to help you," he said. "Find some really strong recruiting relationships, people that have been recruiting in this industry for a long time.

"Recruiters that have been in the industry for a long time have a really good understanding of all the different organisations in the marketplace. A good recruiter will really help coach that person through their next opportunity on their journey.”

By actively fostering connections, both professionals and organisations can navigate economic uncertainty and seize opportunities for growth and career advancement in the ever-changing talent landscape.

About Advanced Clinical

Advanced Clinical

Advanced Clinical is a clinical development and strategic resourcing organisation committed to providing a better clinical experience across the drug development journey. Our goal is to improve the lives of all those touched by clinical research – approaching each opportunity with foresight, character, resilience and innovation.  Based on decades of experience, we help our clients achieve better outcomes by conducting candid conversations and anticipating potential issues through our customised solutions. Visit our website to learn more:

Advanced Clinical
22 February, 2024