How to mitigate talent shortages in Life Sciences - short and long term.

Let's get down to solution talk - short term and long term - rather than spending editorial space on a long introductory piece on the talent shortage issues facing the Life Sciences industry.



Until the political system starts to wake up and take the talent shortage challenge seriously, you need to act, and act now. The first place to look is at your current operating model.

You need to take a quick and critical look at your current operating model - what are the current capabilities, systems, processes and structures in place in your organization to support your business strategy execution? Are they now supporting or limiting your ability to work more effectively and issues-solving considering your current talent situation?

So, what should you concretely do:

Leverage transferable capabilities. Make a capability gap analysis. Identify skills set that are more easily transferable and train them in developing the relevant skills in the area within which you have a talent shortage. Fore instance, design control people in your R&D department could potentially make a (relatively) quick switch - periodically - to e.g. QA or RA functional areas that may be experiencing a serious talent shortage. Why? Because they are already working in close collaboration with people from those areas and are delivering much of the documentation and some of the work processes that they are supporting. The transition complexity is relatively low and intense training in the short run may do the trick.

Leverage digital mobility. Do you have skilled workers at other sites - globally or locally? Switch them - periodically - to take on roles and tasks in a challenged area, but first make sure you have a strong digital infrastructure in place. This is key because, even though you should also pursue leveraging physical mobility between sites - moving people to your challenged location, Corona is still standing in the way and you can come a long way with digital means.


Incentivize employees to go the extra mile. You are in the middle of the storm and now its time for the leadership to step up. Show the way. Create a working environment that speaks to the higher purpose. Strong and engaging leaders and freedom to incentivize employees at their discretion (within clear corporate boundaries) will be key to move forward in the short term. You should consider both monetary incentives, increased flexibility and educational incentives a.o.). If you are too bogged down in the longer term consequences of creating extra-ordinary incentives, you will probably move too late. Explain to the employees that these are unique times that call for extra-ordinary short term solutions (in addition to other long term solutions), and that they are offered unique incentives in recognition of their dedicated support in times of difficulty.


By now, you are mobilizing "all men on deck" in the organization to support you in recruiting the staff you need. Your internal recruiters are swamped in work. You are asking your employees to help identify relevant candidates and you are even asking them to actively reach out to their network on your behalf. This is all fine and great. But it's not enough. You need external support. Why? Because the challenge is not finding the right employees, the challenge is to actually getting them to move jobs. You need help from people who knows the industry inside and out and who can help say the right things to motivate the candidates to move to your company.

Finally, and as mentioned previously mentioned, you need to give your entire operating model a quick run through to identify quick fixes - i.e. identify gaps and non-optimal elements in the current way you structure work and the organization. Is it perhaps better to periodically instal a network-based organization structure that can better support key projects? Moreover, take a look at the current processes framing the way you work - do they help or limit you in dealing with your short term challenges? Are they agile enough? Finally, you need to take a hard look at the systems supporting the organization. Are the current systems adding value to the current situation - do they offer the necessary speed and agility?

There are many other short term initiatives that one must consider to improve the current shortage. However, the bottom line is that either the current operating model is supporting you in your short term solutions or you need to make the necessary short term changes to the model if you are to improve the situation.


Retention is a key long term tool to solving the talent shortage - this includes:


Send a clear message that your employees are important. This involves making employees feel valued and requires an open and flexible workplace that contributes to work-life balance. Today’s employees simply want time to enjoy life beyond work. Moreover, make sure you build strong employee value propositions - why should they come work for you or stay with you?


Allow employees to take full ownership of his or her own responsibilities and make sure you truly use their talent and skills in the workplace.


People leave managers and supervisors more often than they leave companies or jobs. The supervisor has a critical role to play in retention, starting with setting a clear purpose, direction and expectations of the employee.

The most frequent employee complaints that I hear are:

  • Lack of clarity about expectations

  • Lack of transparency

  • Lack of feedback about performance

  • Micro-management

  • Failure to hold scheduled meetings

  • Failure to provide a framework within which the employee perceives he or she can succeed


When asked what a boss could do more of, the general feedback from employees are: 1) make use my skills and abilities and 2) encourage my development.


Employees in Life Sciences want to make a difference and be recognised for their contribution. Whether one likes it or not, increased competition for the best people also means that the scales have shifted in favour of the individual, with a move away from benefit packages that are based solely on pay, within prescribed bands, to reward systems that can be tailored to the needs of each individual within an organisation.

In addition to retention, you should also look to have a clear focus on your employer brand and future recruitment strategies:


A respected employer brand can help you win the war for talent. Are you known for treating your employees well? For investing in your employees etc.? This and other elements can be key to your ability to attract key talent.


You need to make sure that your organization is strategically aligned to the business of the future, and that you map your business-critical talent analyzing where potential skill gaps exist while building a strategy enabling you to better recruit the right talent and transfer expertise when needed.

If you employ the above 5 long term strategies to improve your employee retention, combined with a strong focus on your employer brand, building future recruitment strategies and are prepared to promote an adaptable organisation responding to the future of work being more networked, mobile, project-based, and fluid, there is a high probability that you will be one of the winners in the war for talent in the Life Sciences industry.