Pandemic and Recession Proof? What’s Ahead for Life Sciences Employment

Perspective from Cal McCarthy, Vice President, Life Sciences, Medix 

The pandemic was hard on many industries and employees felt the pain in layoffs, salary freezes, and (for many) a lot of extra work. As those of us lucky to work in or near the life sciences know, life sciences was not one of those industries. When offices emptied for remote work, labs and R&D centers stayed open. Work grew rapidly and the demand for talent was intense. It was a different pandemic experience. 

As we move further and further away from the hardest pandemic years, the questions I am often asked by life sciences employers and employees are these: 

  • How will economic hardships, perhaps recession, factor into industry and workforce growth? 
  • Is life sciences insulated from an economic crisis the same way it was from the worst of the pandemic job market challenges?
  • Where will the talent to fill the life sciences skill gaps come from? (That is a question I get no matter when, before, during and after the pandemic.)

To get at those questions and examine other employment issues ahead of 2023 workforce planning, Medix produced a Medix Workforce Trends Report: The State of the Post-Pandemic Workforce. With this article, I am giving you a sneak peak at some of the key data from the report and guidance on how our growing life sciences sector is managing talent needs and challenges. 

Three Life Sciences Talent Trends to Watch

  • A Pandemic Life Sciences Employment Surge that Stayed: A few industries turned out to be pandemic proof when it came to employment and life sciences was one of them. The industry saw jaw-dropping workforce growth in the first year of the pandemic. From 2020 to 2021, Medix saw life sciences contingent job openings surge by 41.3%, reflecting the support the world needed from labs and medical device leaders to fight COVID-19.
    • As the world moved further away from that first terrible year of the pandemic, the hiring and talent demand cooled but continued to grow. From 2021 to 2022, Medix contingent job openings in life sciences grew again, this time by 18.8%. The industry continues to expand and innovate and the workforce is striving to keep pace.
  • Cost of Living Challenges in Industry Hubs: While technology and finance workers often have the ability to work remotely or work from anywhere, the lab professionals and scientists of the life sciences sector do not have that freedom. They are tied to the workplace, and that puts interesting guardrails around compensation at a time when work-from-anywhere and remote jobs are disrupting how businesses think about paying talent.
    • Here’s the challenge. The life sciences sector has a few core hubs and they are not cheap. They include Boston, San Francisco and San Diego, which are cities that have long secured places on all “the most expensive cities in the U.S.” lists. Most life sciences professionals cannot live in a cheaper location and commute once or twice a week. They have to go to work most every day. With remote work and hybrid commuting options off the table, a good number of professionals are frustrated by salaries and pay rates that do not take into account cost of living in the life sciences top hubs. Businesses that are paying their professionals by title and experience, but not taking into account geographic and cost of living differences need to be prepared for compensation discussions with their teams. If they choose not to address the high costs and inflation realities, they are likely to see talent leave for non-hub cities where their pay will go farther.
  • Time on Assignment Grows: One important measure of employment market health is time on the assignment in staffing. When life sciences professionals stay on their staffing assignments longer, they are delivering more value to the business and they have the time to enhance their own skills. It’s a win-win for employers and talent.
    • From 2021 to 2022, time on assignment grew by 16.9% according to Medix data. That is a big boost to a metric that had been in negative territory since 2018. It’s also a reminder of the surging demand for skilled talent we are seeing across the life sciences sector. Employers in life science are leveraging staffing and project-based talent solutions at higher volume because tapping into a proven, skilled, flexible talent pool is key to weathering talent gaps between full-time hires. It’s an important way to maintain continuity and innovation in a talent shortage.

Download the Report(s) for More

If you’re interested in learning more about the state of life sciences employment, be sure to download the 2022 Medix Workforce Trends Report: The State of the Post-Pandemic Workforce or talk to a Medix expert who can help you build your plan for the road ahead. 

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