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Solving the talent mismatch in Life Sciences

By Matthew Cotton, Business Director at Hays Ireland

The talent mismatch in the Life Science sector is well documented. In a recent survey more than 80% of business leaders in the sector recognise the retention and attraction of talent as the biggest issue they face. This is reinforced by the Hays Global Skills Index 2018’s findings regarding the talent mismatch in Ireland.

Demand for qualified engineering, scientific, R&D and operations personnel remains high but these professionals are proving very scarce. The challenge is exacerbated as we attempt to meet the continued growth and investment in the sector.

There is no doubt we are faced with an extremely challenging recruitment environment but with a concerted effort from government, industry and education we can change this situation.

Government

The Life Science sector generates huge income for the Irish economy with a large number of jobs generated. The Irish government is highly complimentary of the talent in Ireland and often provides this as the reason organisations choose Ireland as a location of choice. However, the longer the skills shortage continues the more likely it is that these companies will move elsewhere.

In the short term, business must work with the government to ensure that we can supply talent to work in these roles. One of the most immediate obstacles to attracting highly skilled candidates is our current visa process. In Japan, the relaxation of their skilled inward migration policies improved labour market participation rates.

Another barrier to entry is our comparatively poor tax incentives. Across Europe, skilled Life Science professionals benefit from hugely attractive tax rates. In order for Ireland to benefit from the mobile nature of the Life Science candidate market, we must compete with our EU neighbour’s ability to attract and retain the required talent.

Organisations

In a competitive market, organisations must work hard to position themselves as an employer of choice. Investing in their workforce is a key part of this process and the first step on this journey is attracting the right people.

The intensely specialised nature of Life Science recruitment can force organisations to overlook potential in favour of finding the employee that ticks every box. This would bring about an inevitable investment in upskilling which will engender a stronger sense of loyalty among employees, benefitting retention.

Organisations must tailor their recruitment approach to take into account the differences between permanent and contract candidates. Those in search of contract roles are often driven by money or the variety that different projects offer, while permanent candidates will be drawn to salary, location, benefits and training offered.

In a world that is increasingly connected, it is more important than ever for organisations to be aware of their employer brand. Adopting an engaged approach during the application process will often generate improved feedback and result in an enhanced reputation among candidates.

Education

The Irish education system has a strong reputation across the world and a more innovative approach will undoubtedly enhance our standing.

Nobody would argue the fact the Life Science sector is bursting with opportunity but for those without relevant qualifications, it may seem like an exclusive club. The introduction of conversion courses would open up the sector to a previously untapped talent pool.

Work placements and internships, for those at undergraduate level, have proved very effective abroad. These initiatives produce individuals who are widely accepted to be “work ready” when they graduate and would be a welcome addition in Ireland. The benefits are two-fold as employers in this sector have higher rates of candidate retention once they have completed their course.

At present Science/Applied Science is the third most popular choice for Level 8 applicants, behind Arts/Social and Admin/Business, however only 15% of those choose Science as a 1st choice. Engineering/Technology sits at 5th most popular, so although there is good awareness of related courses it is clear that more needs to be done to make these courses more attractive.

A joined up approach between the education system and business will undoubtedly produce a pipeline of qualified candidates to positively impact Ireland’s future Life Science sector.

Parents

The responsibility for solving the talent mismatch is Life Science does not lie solely with government, organisations and education, parents also have an important part to play.

Many parents today are not as familiar with opportunities in the Life Science sector as they would be with more traditional sectors. It is perhaps the responsibility of everyone to educate parents on the wealth opportunities that exist within the Life Science sector and that a career in the Science sector is not something reserved simply for those seeking a PhD, there is a diverse range of career’s available.

In short, preventing a growing skills deficit in the Life Science sector is a key priority for all stakeholders but a more joined up approach is required in order to make a lasting impact.

To find out more, or to discuss your recruitment needs, please contact your local consultant

About this author

Matthew joined Hays in 2003 where he specialised in Office Support & PA Secretarial recruitment. With over 14 years’ experience Matthew is currently a Business Director for Hays Ireland now specialising in the Life Sciences industry.

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