Written by Rinesa - 5 Minutes reading time

Dealing with the labour force in the Life Science industry

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“The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it."

"This is one of the best opening movie prologues in my opinion.

I turned 36 this year, and although I don’t think I am old enough to state the above, I do think there is a simple truth in this message. I believe that we are close to a tipping point.

I am not going to be talking about any of the larger problems at hand such as the climate crisis, the ongoing geopolitical tumult and so on. I will simply look at something that I have worked in for a major part of my life. That is dealing with the labour force in the Life Science sector and what I believe we could influence in a regional capacity.

Einstein said; "if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough." So here is what I think is happening and what I believe we could do about the challenges that we face with the labour force in the Life Science sector in a simple manner.

A brief historical insight

The labour shortage is not something new. It has been a reality for different reasons but there was a “cause and effect”, looking at labour trends that occurred during the black plague, the abolition of slavery, and WW1/2. A disproportional percentage of the people died, got sick, got free, and so on. This in turn made the inflation skyrocket but also completely changed the power equation between employees and employers. The lords and factory bosses needed the workers more than the other way around. As a result, wages doubled or tripled which resulted in a higher standard of living or at least normalised this which helped resolve the whole inflation issue.

What’s happening now in the Western European Life Science sector?

I believe, that the Western European Life Science sector is facing an unprecedented labour shortage in the coming years as talent is already scarce in more specialised and highly regulated fields. Most companies located here require very comparable labour force needs. Also, we are dealing with a decreasing work population and an increasing population of people between 60-80+ years old. A demographic root is hard to fix quickly. Especially due to the underrepresentation of females in science, technology, and engineering-related positions, this challenge only gets bigger. For example, Denmark alone will already face a future scarcity of over 19.000 IT specialists and a need for over 6.500 engineers from early 2025 onwards.

Some of the start-ups and scale-ups in the sector are facing increasing challenges when it comes down to bringing in additional funding. This is caused because investors are holding in due to a more cautious approach with the ongoing volatility, which results in people leaving for safer harbours. This does not change the fact that there is still plenty of funding available. A lot of investors brought in funding in 21/22 for approximately 10 billion which they will invest in due course.

We are now still able to get into the workforce from other parts of the world. However, this will soon change as most of the countries where companies based in Western Europe can attract labour are developing at a rapid pace. Which means in short:

  • A decrease in industrial activity and business vitality as firms relocate or reduce activities from shrinking regions to growing regions because of labour market issues.
  • A huge social economic impact on regions that have less diverse economic structures.
  • Skills ecosystems weaken as the private sector and skilled labour force are reduced.

As these companies drive economic growth through high productivity, export intensity, and innovation, you see that they are starting to push the agendas of policymakers. This is great, but it does not really solve the issue at hand. In the meantime, everybody is paying premium salaries to either keep or attract people. Sometimes by increasing salaries by 20% to even extreme situations such as 70% in some specialisation areas.

War for talent vs regional talent ecosystem

I understand why people are calling it the war for talent. But I believe the fact that they call it a war, is the root of the problem. Talent is not something you own as a company. Talent flows and goes where it pleases. Even though recruitment organisations strive in a job market where there is more demand than candidates, we believe that we should change some things around.

I believe that we need to start building regional talent ecosystems with a collection of interlinking players such as government, organisations, educators, and service providers. They have a formal and informal relationship to act together and influence the performance and attractiveness of a region.

This means:

  • A more proactive approach towards talent management by sharing the load.
  • Share and exchange talent across organisations openly.
  • Make a collective regional pool of talent and work together on the mentioned topics.
  • This talent pool is utilised for common actions related to talent attraction, retention, and development.

What makes this different?

  • By working together and exchanging talent, you can radically change the way talent is circulated across organisations.
  • People will always have relevant work.
  • You will keep and maintain talent in your region.
  • Anticipate trends and needs before problems occur.
  • Act as a specialised regional network to create a healthy ecosystem.
  • Start looking at talent as an asset, not a headcount cost, in the same way as a recruiter does.

What could you do?

Let’s start with an open dialogue with the companies in your region. Maybe exchange spontaneous applicants, start a joint campaign or shared education course, and share the people that did not get a position or are looking to leave. And if you are not sure where to begin or just like to talk further about this, feel free to get in touch here."