The war for talent intensifies in the pharmaceutical sector – but don’t expect a salary rise yet

Salaries within the life sciences sector show few signs of rising, despite the recent recovery in the UK’s economy. Yvette Cleland discusses.

A comprehensive new survey reveals little change in the way of base salary, particularly at junior level.1 The report shows that most employees in life sciences roles remain on £20-£30K until they have amassed at least three years’ experience. The base salaries in areas such as clinical research and regulatory affairs are particularly low, with those in the former role earning less than £20K in their first year.

This is surprising considering the rising shortage of candidates with STEM skills available to pharmaceutical companies. Last year, research showed that 59% of businesses and 79% of universities believe there aren’t enough graduates with the required skills in science, technology engineering and maths.2 The survey also revealed that 61% of business leaders and 68% of academics believe this shortage will take over 10 years to fill. Whilst this might be expected to cause a rise in salaries of current life science employees, no such increase is being seen.

“…79% of universities believe there aren’t enough graduates with the required skills in science…”

However, whilst base salaries remain static, the report shows that the benefits awarded to employees have increased significantly in the last year, as companies find new ways of keeping their most valued employees satisfied. This does not only concern one-off bonuses, but ranges from things such as life assurance to gym membership. But is this approach working?

Ostensibly the tactic appears to have been effective so far. When employees were questioned on salary satisfaction, over half of those earning at least £49,000 p.a. stated that they were happy with their level of remuneration, implying that benefits had indeed helped increase salary satisfaction.

However, on looking deeper into the results, perhaps this does not tell the whole story. When asked if they were looking for a new role, almost every specialism in the sector had more respondents actively seeking new positions, than those wanting to remain in their current jobs. On top of this, almost 90% of those with a salary above £80K are actively job-hunting, showing that the war for talent is also hotting up amongst more experienced staff.

“…almost 90% of those with a salary above £80K are actively job-hunting, showing that the war for talent is also hotting up amongst more experienced staff.”

One area which had more satisfied employees in their roles than those actively job-hunting was medical writing. This is unexpected considering the salaries offered, which are amongst the lowest in the pharmaceuticals sector. However, the level of satisfaction could be explained by the fact that it is a relatively new and fast growing specialism, and employees expect that as the economy recovers, medical writing will be one of the most positively affected areas.

Also, when we study the data in medical communications more closely, although medical writers salaries have remained static, senior medical writers have seen a large rise in pay. The report reveals they have increased over the past year from £30-40K to £50-60K. Whilst it might not seem one of the most lucrative areas immediately, candidates may well be attracted by the prospect of a promotion and the salary jump that comes with it.

Another finding of the report is the difference between pharmaceutical salaries of junior roles in the UK compared to those in Europe. For employees of less than three years’ experience, salaries in Europe are notably higher, particularly in the aforementioned struggling areas of clinical research and regulatory affairs. A UK based regulatory affairs employee, for example, is likely to be starting on at least £13K less than their European counterpart. However, as experience levels rise past five years, the salaries begin to even out, becoming very similar in senior positions.

“One area which had more satisfied employees in their roles than those actively job-hunting was medical writing…”

Although entry level base salaries are higher across Europe, the survey reveals that the high benefits awarded in the UK far exceed those in Europe, with 20% more UK respondents earning one-off bonuses, and almost 25% more given private medical cover. It seems that while British pharmaceuticals companies are using bonuses to keep hold of their top talent, European companies are more focused on attracting new candidates with higher base pay.

As we head into 2014 we expect recruitment within UK life sciences to become even more competitive as employees look to secure new jobs. This, along with the recovering economy, looks set to positively affect the pharmaceutical sector. Whether this will lead to a rise in base salaries, it is still too early to tell.

References

1. Clinical professionals report: www.pharmaceuticalsalarysurvey.com

2. YouGov research http://research.yougov.co.uk/news/2013/10/11/uk-skills-gap-stem-subject/

 

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About the author:

Yvette has worked within the Pharmaceutical Industry for 8 years with Janssen Cilag (Johnson & Johnson). She commenced her career within Pharmaceutical recruitment in 1999 building contract and permanent teams throughout the UK for the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies. Her background in the Pharmaceutical sector gave her an excellent insight into identifying the best people for organisations. Within 18 months of joining the recruitment sector she was heading up a UK wide recruitment team.

In 2006 Yvette moved to commerce and industry recruitment in the City of London across 8 London based teams as an Executive Director for a market leading accounts and finance recruiter. During her tenure of 5 years in post she was integral in the success and consequently most profitable business units within the Group alongside developing all company training programmes, companywide recruitment and HR function.

In 2012 Yvette joined Clinical Professionals as Group Managing Director. Yvette’s knowledge of the pharmaceutical sector is extensive and has been supported by a recent pharma MBA course and is ABPI qualified.

Closing thought: How does your organisation reward talent?