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Executive Spotlights

Hiring in Life Sciences is Becoming More Difficult, Study Shows

According to a report published by CBRE titled "Life Sciences Research Talent 2022," there are more professionals working in life sciences research in the United States than there ever have been. In fact, the number of researchers working in life sciences grew by a startling 79% from 2001 to 2021.

This shows a stark contrast between the 8% growth of all other occupations in the U.S. during the same time frame. The report also states that a record number of professionals are graduating with life science degrees. In 2020 alone, there were more than 163,000 U.S. graduates in biological and biomedical sciences–nearly double the number of graduates 15 years ago.

Despite these promising statistics, CBRE states that “finding life sciences research talent may prove extremely difficult.”

This is because many professionals who have the skills to be successful in the life science sector are already employed. The report states that in April 2022, life, physical and social science occupations had the second-lowest unemployment rate of all U.S. occupations at 0.6%.

While this is good news for professionals working in the life sciences, it presents a unique challenge to employers. After all, how can you find the right candidate when no one is applying? While there’s no one way to address this issue, you can improve your chances of finding talent by educating yourself about the state of the hiring market.

Research Candidates Most Difficult to Find

CBRE’s report states that those in research roles, such as biochemists, biological scientists, chemists and skilled laboratory support staff, have experienced heightened demand over the past decade, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the largest research occupation according to CBRE’s data is medical scientists (excluding epidemiologists), which has grown 131% over the past 20 years.

When the life science industry experienced such rapid growth, companies needed researchers to aid them in creating new drugs and therapies. As a result, unemployment in this sector plummeted.

The good news is that the pace of life science graduates seems to be keeping up with the rising demand. In fact, 2020 saw the highest number of U.S. degrees and certificates ever conferred in biological and biomedical sciences.

As a result, many companies have shifted their recruitment efforts to recent graduates. Still, a large majority of these graduates have little working experience, meaning recruiters will most likely have more success hiring for entry-level research positions over senior-level positions.

How and Where to Find Talent

Because of the ample opportunities and choices available to job seekers, employers have to up their game if they want to remain competitive. According to a survey conducted by CBRE, “researchers are placing an increasing emphasis on a company’s purpose and mission to make a difference in patient lives.”

This means that if you want to attract top talent, you have to make sure your company has solid values, and provide evidence that shows your work aligns with those values. Simply stating that you want to help isn’t enough–potential employees will need proof that you take action to provide help and aid to the communities you serve.

Additionally, where your company is located directly correlates to the type and number of candidates who apply. Unsurprisingly, the report states that “the most research talent exists along the U.S. East Coast stretching from Boston/Cambridge to Raleigh-Durham as well as the West Coast, anchored by the San Francisco Bay Area.”

Because these locations are well-known hubs for pharma and life science companies, it makes sense that these locations would be the best place to look for top talent. Even so, there is still hope for companies not located in these regions, as there are growing pools of untapped talent across the country.

If you feel you’ve done everything you can do and you’re still not finding the right applicants, you may have to be willing to provide more training than you have in the past. Because the pool of life science graduates is rapidly increasing, some candidates who apply may not have the experience necessary for more advanced roles.

Even so, there are many recent graduates who would jump at the opportunity to receive more advanced training, and you may find you prefer these candidates over others who may have picked up some undesirable habits in previous roles.

Though hiring research candidates may be more difficult, it’s still doable–you may just have to take a different approach.


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