what's top of mind for life science hiring leaders in 2019?

share this article:

The life sciences industry is changing rapidly, with ongoing product innovations, mergers and acquisitions and disruptive new business models all contributing to an uncertain hiring environment. Yet in Randstad's survey of select life sciences clients in Q4 of 2018, optimism prevailed.

In fact, 90 percent of those surveyed reported feeling either moderately (76%) or highly (14%) confident about the current economic climate, and a majority (57%) indicated that they expect business performance to increase in the year ahead.

A few other key takeaways:

  • Most life sciences organizations foresee growth in 2019 and expect to make new hires as a result.

  • In the context of significant internal and external challenges, access to talent will likely be what truly differentiates success from failure — in 2019 and beyond.

  • Not enough emphasis is currently being placed on retention and succession planning, two areas that will be increasingly important in an ultra-competitive talent market.

  • The need for aggressive growth will place strains on the hiring process, ultimately leading to a host of unfortunate business outcomes if left unchecked.

In this article, we'll unpack our survey results in greater detail to get insights into the challenges facing life sciences companies today — and how they can overcome those challenges to thrive in 2019 and beyond.

access to talent will be a determining factor

Most life sciences organizations foresee significant change and disruption in 2019. When asked to rank their biggest internal challenges, for example, three factors emerged as front-runners: mergers and acquisitions (22%), new product launches (22%) and scaling for profitable growth (22%). Externally, on the other hand, a single factor stood out, with 44 percent of respondents citing competitive pressure.

Yet the common — and seemingly overlooked — thread in these internal and external challenges is the role that talent will necessarily play in whether organizations are able to achieve their goals. Think about it: Mergers and acquisitions will result in large-scale reorganizations, leading to new talent needs. Likewise, talent will be the driving force behind new product launches and the ability to scale for profitable growth. And externally, competitive pressures will only intensify the already heated rivalries between life sciences companies for top talent.

Access to talent, and how well companies are able to attract and retain top performers, may be a make-or-break factor in the year ahead. And while most organizations are taking steps to address this reality, it appears that their efforts aren't optimized to support the outcomes they want — as we will turn to next.

retention and succession planning should be key focus areas

With so much at stake, and top life sciences talent frequently on the job market for as few as 10 days, organizations should redouble their efforts around employee retention. Unfortunately, that doesn't appear to be the case across the board.


For example, when asked about the key components of their retention strategies, life sciences companies put competitive salaries (26%) and flexible hours (21%) at the top of the list — and that's a good start. Yet when asked what differentiates their organizations as an employer of choice from the competition, only nine percent cited “compensation and benefits.” That's a clear misalignment, considering that these same organizations cited "better salary and benefits" as the second-most-common reason employees depart, just behind more opportunities for advancement elsewhere. This is the kind of disconnect that causes retention strategies to derail fast.

Likewise, succession planning is an overlooked opportunity for life sciences companies to get out ahead of the competition — indeed, it's an area where many are woefully unprepared.

According to our survey, the majority of life sciences companies (54%) don't have succession plans in place for replacing high-performing team members. And a still greater majority (78%) haven’t performed forward-looking skills gap analyses. In other words, they don't have a clear view of how the skills of their existing workforce align with the skills they'll likely need in the foreseeable future.

With top life sciences talent in extremely limited supply, succession planning — or its absence — will likely lead to problems for many organizations, sooner rather than later. So if life sciences companies hope to gain a leg up on the competition, they'll need to get started right away.

slow your roll — or else aggressive growth will strain the hiring process

The majority (59%) of employers in Randstad's survey said they plan to hire in 2019 in order to support business growth. But that's something they should approach with a note of caution, because rapid growth and hiring quality don't always go hand in hand.

In an ultra-competitive hiring market, many organizations will feel pressured to fill outstanding vacancies as quickly as possible. And doing so comes with the risk of cutting corners — for example, streamlining the approval process so that fewer stakeholders are involved, or changing the way candidates are vetted and screened. Any of these moves could potentially lead to bad hires, with wasted money and increased stress on the existing team as the unfortunate result.

When asked to rank the most detrimental impacts of a bad hire, our clients cited the following negative outcomes:


Indeed, all of these — typically in combination — result when you make a bad hire. So life sciences companies must ensure that the imperative to grow is counterbalanced by robust safeguards around the hiring process. Otherwise, the consequences could be catastrophic.

conclusion and key takeaways

Ranstad's survey of select life sciences clients revealed that many organizations have not only an overall growth outlook in common, but share many of the same challenges and opportunities, too. With such a competitive forecast for this space, companies must act fast — and those that are able to address the talent-related obstacles discussed in this article will likely gain a distinct advantage as a result.

Fortunately, that's where Randstad Life Sciences can help.

We take a high-tech, high-touch approach to recruitment and hiring, so we can help you more effectively attract and retain talent, avoid bad hires and mitigate your most pressing workforce challenges. With specialized expertise in nearly every field, our local consultants provide customized recruiting plans tailored to your market and competitive landscape.

Get in touch with us today to learn how.

looking to solve a hiring problem? let us help you