The COVID-19 pandemic has placed healthcare systems across the world under enormous strain, and profound disruptions have been experienced across communities, clinicians and patients. As other industries continue to adjust and become accustomed to the new ways of working and interacting with their stakeholders, life sciences companies are scrambling to do their part in meeting patients’ needs.

Many life sciences companies in Singapore are working and collaborating tirelessly to develop tests and treatments for COVID-19. Diagnostic and pharma companies have found themselves at the forefront of the COVID-19 fight, supplying and rapidly scaling up production of important medical products. At the same time, the clinical and product development sector is experiencing profound disruptions as employees adjust to remote work environments with a reduction in lab capacity. With COVID-19 here for an unknown duration, here are some of the possible talent and skills changes we might experience in the life science industry.

research & development and diagnostics will take lead in 2020

Despite the pressure for healthcare companies to step up and find a way to plug COVID-19, it is not a collective boost in operations and talent demand across the industry.

The eradication of COVID-19 is high on all government agendas. Companies that already have a focus on research, development and production on infectious diseases prior to COVID-19 will receive more investments to enhance their capabilities.

Singapore’s R&D efforts have also led to the development of cutting-edge technologies that help track and stem the spread of COVID-19. This includes the Fortitude Kit 2.0 which can accurately detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

With an all-hands-on-deck mindset and pressures from the population to defeat this invisible enemy, we expect to see a corresponding and steady demand for talent in genomics. We also foresee a demand in next-gen sequencing, next-gen technologies, molecular biology, and productisation of diagnostics.

It’s also critical for talent to understand that healthcare demands for the treatment and management of non-communicable diseases are not taking a back seat just because of COVID-19. Pharmaceuticals, biomanufacturing plants and research centres focussing on other therapeutic areas are continuing their operations and hiring plans to meet patient demands.

However, we’ve noticed a more muted growth in elective healthcare, such as eye care and hearing aids, as face-to-face consultation and diagnosis is not possible with the current community measures. Even when such services resume, the need to space out consultations will also result in a slower demand for research and new product development.

enhance your employer branding efforts

The public is looking towards the healthcare industry to accelerate the discovery and development of new therapeutics to combat this virus.

During a crisis, an employer’s response to COVID-19 and ability to deliver its promise are imperative in ensuring employee confidence. Even if the company is not directly involved in COVID-19 research and treatment, employers can step up and play a more proactive role in protecting the health and safety of their own staff. Workers also appreciate management teams that are transparent and forthcoming, even when the news is bad.

For instance, many healthcare firms are using this period of time to communicate regularly through internal town halls and webinars, as well as engage with their staff via virtual yoga or mental health awareness programmes.

These engagements can help create a sense of “togetherness” culture within the organisation. When people are able to engage with each other remotely, they can establish deeper relationships. A strong company culture would enhance the perception of the organisation’s employer brand, which would improve talent attraction and workforce retention efforts.

fewer contract roles and shorter contracting periods

Similar to how the industry is performing during this pandemic, talent who were working on product projects that have been deprioritised this year may be displaced from their working commitments.

Some may negotiate an arrangement with their managers to work on fewer projects or hours to stay employed during this period. However, some employees might take this opportunity to look for other jobs, so that they can feel reassured of a more stable employment and income until the market recovers. Depending on their experience and specialist areas, these job seekers will be able to demonstrate transferable skills that are attractive to other employers.

However, there is still a focus on hiring employees for permanent positions rather than contract roles due to the nature of the jobs. Companies are looking for talent who can commit for a longer period of time to drive research and facilitate a steady supply of healthcare products and services entering the market.

We have also observed that the duration of contract roles that were previously budgeted for has been shortened from an average of 12 months to six months, likely for better financing controls. Despite contract jobs being often frowned upon in the Asian context due to the outdated affiliation with income instability, many people are just content with securing a job in this current climate.

Due to the economic uncertainty and weaker market conditions, employees do not harbour high expectations when it comes to bonuses or salary increments this year.

emerging healthcare talent from career switchers

In general, the healthcare industry has always been rather “recession-proof”. Companies are more likely to face a reallocation of funds rather than a complete divestment when the market slows down.

A pandemic like COVID-19 often leaves people feeling helpless, while others may be motivated to extend a hand to help. Many people understood the importance of the role life sciences play in helping the public combat COVID-19. Some who have been displaced may be inspired by the work and feel motivated to switch their careers to join healthcare.

However, we recommend candidates to seek professional consultation before making the decision to change careers. Be clear that it is not a reaction to the pandemic and ensure that you have a good set of transferable skills for a less disruptive switch. Career switchers also need to be open and mentally prepared to start with a lower salary, possibly even in a less desired position, to make up for their lack of experience.

If the candidate demonstrates the right learning attitude, employers should consider onboarding them and provide a robust training session to get them up to speed. By tapping on the talent pool outside of the regular life sciences space, companies are creating more options and opportunities to build their internal pipeline.

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about the author
life science recruitment agencies in singapore
life science recruitment agencies in singapore

Johari Masod

Associate Director, Life Sciences, Randstad Singapore

Johari started his career in pharmaceuticals as a qualitative researcher and entered the recruitment industry and specialise in life sciences & pharmaceutical companies. With more than a decade of experience, he leads a team to advise healthcare companies across six verticals - pharmaceuticals, medical technology, biotechnology, life sciences, petrochemical and food ingredients - on talent recruitment and management.

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