The greatest challenge that clinical research leaders face is finding candidates with the right skills to fill their open roles. Many factors contribute to skills gaps, including the pace of technological change and a tight job market that restricts an organization’s ability to attract new talent. Considering these obstacles to talent acquisition, it’s no wonder that research companies are discussing their teams’ skill deficiencies and the solutions that will aid them in workforce development.
According to a joint project of Wiley Education Services and Future Workplace1, a significant share of employers view skills as short-term assets, as 40% estimate that a skill is only usable for four years or less. This increases the need for employers to hire or upskill workers when gaps form. As the study’s findings note, however, “Unfortunately, it is difficult for companies to satisfy their skills needs through hiring alone. According to this survey, 44 percent of employers believe it is harder to fill open positions this year than last year. In 2018, only 35 percent of employers shared this view”.

Competency vs. Tenure

There are many benefits to assessing actual competency in roles as opposed to relying on tenure alone, beginning with improved recruitment and retention of talent. In today’s clinical workforce, people are often hired or promoted based on whether or not they’ve had a certain number of years of experience rather than how competent they are. However, a growing number of experts agree that competency, not tenure, should be the litmus test for clinical trial professionals. The challenge is developing and promulgating such standards. That’s where the Joint Task Force for Clinical Trial Competency (JTF) comes in.
In 2013, the JTF developed eight competency domains for creating a professional framework for the clinical research field. These competencies are recognized by many nationally and internationally accredited groups and have been used as a guide in preparing professionals to achieve certification in clinical research.
A recent publication by the University of Georgia and Emory University describes a study of how the JTF Core Competency Domains are perceived by clinical research coordinators in terms of their career orientation and satisfaction. The conclusion of the study was that “understanding the career orientation of CRCs can be helpful to institutional administrators and clinical investigators as they support professional development and training of CRCs.”2

Career Mapping and Standardization of Roles

A lack of CRC job title consistency blurs the equation on both sides of the interview and hiring process. In today’s clinical trial landscape, sites are often left to fend for themselves when interpreting various job titles without much confidence that the title reflects any tangible skill set. Sites looking to remain competitive with other sites are often forced to get creative with titles to recruit and maintain the best staff. The result is that these titles can become almost meaningless.
For example, while many CRCs are nurses, they often are not trained for their role in clinical trials. Nursing research is very different from clinical research. Unfortunately, that contributes to a lack of awareness among nurses when it comes to defining a clear career path in the clinical trial industry.
For CRCs attempting to transition to a CRA role, it is crucial that they are proficient in their current role and able to clearly describe their competencies. It is also important for CRCs who are considering becoming CRAs to recognize the different types of monitoring being done in the drug and device development industry. Beyond traditional onsite monitoring by making visits to study sites, the nuances of risk-based and central monitoring versus remote monitoring and in-house CRA activities can be difficult for people not already in those roles to understand.
A perceived lack of professional advancement and career development opportunities are the two biggest factors driving clinical trial professionals to seek employment elsewhere, according to a survey by SCORR Marketing and Applied Clinical Trials3. A little more than 40% of respondents reported that they were currently looking for a new job, and nearly half said a dearth of professional advancement was the single biggest factor beckoning them out the door. Interestingly, inadequate salary was cited by a bit more than 20% of respondents, suggesting that job satisfaction, fueled by a clear career path, is more important than compensation alone when trying to reduce churn in a competitive market.
Note: This article originally appeared in the Spring, 2020 edition of SCRS InSite: The Global Journal for Clinical Research Sites. 

  1. Wiley Education Services, & Future Workplace. Closing the skills gap. August 2019. Accessed February 2020 from:
  2. Rojewski JW, Choi I, Hill JR, Ko Y, Walters KL, Kwon S, and McCauley L (2019) Career orientation and perceived professional competence among clinical research coordinators. Journal of Clinical and Translational Science 3: 234–244.
  3. Henderson, L., Salary and Satisfaction. December 2017. Accessed February 2020 from:

About the Author
Nicole Mills is Director of Clinical Research at Medix and currently works in our Scottsdale, Arizona office. Read more of here work here!