Despite a cautious outlook for early 2023, the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest the UK economy may just avoid recession, and even be on an upward trajectory. However, concerns remain about a difficult employment landscape for job seekers in the biosciences industry amid a lack of digital and data skills in the UK life sciences workforce.
Last week, the ONS put out a report Fall in the country’s inflation rate From 7.3% in June to 6.4% in July. While labor disputes resulted in a total loss of 160,000 working days, the organization said the annual rate of increase in wages was the highest in June since records began in 2001. These changes have led to what Tom Hill, a recruiting consultant at Aspion, describes as “a very candidate-driven” life sciences job market. Aspion is a recruitment consultancy that places candidates for companies in the UK life sciences and pharmaceutical sector. This is mainly the case for specialized roles in the life sciences sector, which is in line with reports citing UK skills shortages for STEM workers. Hill says that individuals can often have three or four opportunities to choose from, which is a stark contrast to years past where employers had more negotiating power.
But Martin Anderson, founding director of Caret Recruitment, a company specializing in providing recruitment services in the UK and Europe, offers a contrarian view. He says things have “slowed down” from the fourth quarter of 2022 to August 2023, citing “low hiring demand at the moment”. This dissonance stems from a skills gap that appears to have widened over the years.
Bethan Durham, a 2023 Medicinal Chemistry graduate from the University of Leeds, is looking for a job in the current pharmaceutical landscape. When researching a role in synthetic chemistry in the pharmaceutical industry, Durham noticed a consistent trend in data skills requirements for certain job positions. She says traditional lab skills remain important in research and development roles, but more technical roles requiring data skills are also showing up in her searches.
one in June 2023 Public First ReportCommissioned by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), examining skills needs in the UK life sciences sector, interviewed companies that named digital and data skills as “top priorities for the industry”. The report also found that 45% of new graduate students in 2021 were studying science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) disciplines. However, despite the wide availability of fresh talent with the required areas of expertise, there is a clear gap between candidates. Access to the job market and life science companies.
Within the life sciences sector, Anderson says healthcare and medical communications-related roles have seen a growing need for digital capabilities. “Instead of outsourcing digital roles like UX designers and web designers, they are doing it in-house”, he says. Anderson says the pharmaceutical industry was “years behind” other sectors in adopting digital roles in their operations. In their life sciences related job search, Durham says to seek digital skills in roles such as artificial intelligence have also appeared unexpectedly.
Between April and July 2023, GlobalData reports 407% growth in pharmaceutical Generative AI Posting,
GlobalData’s parent company is Pharmaceutical Technology.
However, building the necessary skills that are in demand these days is a challenge. Economic pressures nationwide have also had a negative impact on the hiring of low entry-level talent. Anderson says that during the COVID-19 pandemic, graduates haven’t been hired and trained, creating a gap in mid-level skills.
Dr Patrick White, Associate Professor in Quantitative Research Methods at the University of Leicester, highlights another issue that has led to the under-appreciation of undergraduate STEM talent.
White’s research found that across a range of STEM disciplines, graduates with biological science degrees were the least likely to transition into roles related to their science degree. White cites the lack of monetary incentives as a major reason for this. “One of the big issues is that jobs [life sciences companies] “They’re so concerned with economic growth that they’re not very attractive in terms of what they offer to graduates,” White says. He adds, “Less than half of people with STEM degrees work in highly skilled STEM jobs at any point after graduation.”
While the ONS reports an increase in annual growth in regular salaries, White says the wide disparity between life science salaries and those in other industries such as the financial sector discourages many graduates from choosing this route. “If you want more people, you have to make these roles more attractive to them,” is his response to the perceived skills shortage that has been discussed among the industry.
Future Outlook on the Job Market
this month, Bank of England reported a decline Inflation rates, but since levels were still high, it also announced plans to raise interest rates again in August to 5.25%. The ONS has also reported an increase in unemployment levels and an increase in the country’s redundancy rate in the last quarter compared to pre-pandemic rates.
Anderson says the high unemployment rate is related to the current state of the UK pharmaceutical industry. He says that currently “there are many more candidates than vacancies.” This is reflected in the data that the estimated number of job vacancies in the UK fell by 66,000 from Q2 to Q3 to 1,020,000.
With inflationary pressures, Anderson points out that UK biotechs are “protecting their profits” by minimizing and/or choosing not to grow your workforce, He adds that recruiting graduates is “an expense that gets deducted along with advertising expenses.”
Bridging the gap between the talent pool and sector requirements is the need of the hour, but this will not be possible without greater industry investment in fresh talent, notwithstanding the current climate.