Pharmaceutical recruitment: the impact of a potential recession

The pharmaceutical industry is famed for being relatively recession-proof, and capable of absorbing increased exposure to risk as a result of tightened belts and lower public and private spending.

But with looming financial clouds on the horizon, a potential recession is, while not assured, certainly on the cards.

In that regard, the average pharma risk assessment will throw up novel challenges, the most business-critical of which are how pharmaceutical companies hire and retain critical specialist staff amidst a talent shortage, and how emerging biopharma and biotech companies weather the storm amidst investment shortfalls.

Recruitment risks and an increase in staffing demand across the pharma and biotech industry are, sadly, nothing new – the last few years have shown that stable recruitment numbers cannot be taken for granted, and from employer branding to retention strategies, there has been a redoubled effort to better understand how the rhythms of recruitment continue to evolve post-pandemic.

Pharmaceutical recruitment trends 

Pharmaceutical hiring is in a challenging place. In some sectors, like Tech and IT, there has been a continent-wide pullback in active hiring, with activity dropping 7% in May 2022. And yet, there was a “40% decline in people applying for (pharma) vacancies between May and June of this year”.

Critical shortages are predicted to remain in our essential, life-saving sector. Trends show that even a reduction of hiring within the start-up sector will not automatically precursor a rise in available talent for larger, more established companies. The risk is, seemingly, borne by all.

This increase in general recruitment market volatility, mixed with a pressing need for specialists in certain pharmaceutical functions has created a perfect storm of high demand, low supply within Quality Assurance and QP talent pools. Incidentally, this call for something to be done about talent shortages has been reflected in the country’s risk of seeing medicine shortages across the board as a result.

My view is that, coupled with inflationary issues on workforce positivity and flexibility, and potential pre-recession nervousness amongst employers across the pharma field, there has been a cultural misalignment between employers and employees.

This is clear, most acutely, when it comes to how pharma enterprises engage with QPs.

QPs, and recession-proof hiring strategies

Within the commercial and clinical quality assurance field, the dearth of Qualified Persons has put a unique sort of pressure on employers to prioritise long-term, permanent hiring – not only to handle shortages in the sector but to create more stable and sustainable long-term plans of to-market strategies.

However, this simply doesn’t match what candidates want – and that is to work as a contractor.

Now, while I have my own opinions on why this is the case, it cannot be ignored that to fix talent shortages in the short term, employers have to simply meet candidate demands, as long as they are sustainable.

My advice to hiring companies has been to remain as flexible as possible with their job offers: this means opening up your QP hiring strategies to contractors in the initial offer, even if this goes against standard practice, whilst leveraging your desire to engage contractors on a permanent basis if certain criteria are met and the candidate is happy to do so.

Whilst this may not be the cure to long-term talent ailments within the QP field, it goes a long way in ensuring the talent that does work are doing so effectively and for as long as needed.

Contracting vs Permanent expectations

To not meet this strict candidate expectation risks critical product-to-market delay, and, most disastrously for some employers, it will usher in a wave of QPs going to other companies who are meeting this demand.

For support on your Quality Assurance and QP recruitment plans for 2022 please Contact AssureBio.