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The Boom in Biomanufacturing Requires a Special Approach to Sourcing Talent

Biomanufacturing is booming - we don’t need to tell you that! The global biomanufacturing market is expected to more than quadruple in size between 2020 and 2031. While it’s fantastic that this field is receiving the interest and investment it deserves, that level of growth presents some pretty unique hiring challenges, particularly as such specialist skills are required. We look at the latest industry trends, and what that means for the future of recruiting Biomanufacturing professionals.

The entire Life Sciences industry is changing rapidly - the talent shortage is not limited to Biomanufacturing. Some f those wider industry trends apply to this specialism, of course, but there are a few unique challenges that Biomanufacturing businesses face alone. There are also many opportunities to help you make the most of this increase in investment and interest, such as finding professionals from adjacent industries and offering early-career support that will bring recent graduates up to speed and into your network, quickly.

Professor Jim DeKloe (Educating and Training in Biomanufacturing at Solano College) told us: “We have a near 100% placement at all levels. I think that I could double my programme and still place everyone - or triple, or quadruple the programme, andstillplace everyone.”

Biomanufacturing market trends

Market share

Around 50% of the global biotechnology market share is taken up by health-related businesses. Other applications include, in decreasing order of market share, food & agriculture, natural resources & environment, industrial processing, bioinformatics and ‘other’. There is a huge shortage of talent in this field, but the split between health and other applications means that for many of your roles, there is the opportunity to find candidates from other industries.

To give an indication of the size of this market, the bioeconomy (including all sectors, medical and otherwise):

●       was valued at nearly US$1 trillion in January 2020 (PDF) in the USA (National Academy of Sciences, 2020);beforethis recent high-growth period.

●       accounted for 5 million jobs in the UK (PDF) in 2016 (HM Government, 2018).

●       is undergoing a ‘bio-revolution’ projected to have a direct annual global impact of $2–4 trillion in 2030–40 (McKinsey, 2020).

This sector is a significant contributor to the global economy. But this high-growth period isn’t the only interesting feature of the market.

Platform and technology shifts

Another trend affecting recruitment for some biomanufacturing roles is the shift in the biological platforms companies favour. Since 2018, there have been clear trends in the following directions (BioPlan Associates, 2021):

●       Decrease in the proportion of companies using mammalian cell cultures (though it is still the most widely used)

●       Cell and gene therapy have trended upwards

●       Decrease in proportion of companies using microbial fermentation and yeast

●       The proportion using plant cells has remained relatively stable

●       The proportion using insect cells has fluctuated, appearing to trend slightly upwards

Emerging platforms may not yet be taught extensively in colleges and universities, which can make hiring early-career scientists more difficult. This means that businesses in these fields may have to create their own training programmes, or hire experienced leaders in this field to mentor inexperienced newcomers. However, more established platforms may find that there are plenty of early-career scientists and recent graduates that are already knowledgeable enough to hit the ground running.

Global events, such as the pandemic and breakthroughs in science, can have an impact on the different approaches used by existing organisations (such as ‘big Pharma’ players), but they can also create a surge of new, smaller businesses (‘biotechs’) that want to capitalise on novel opportunities. That means that staying on top of the latest trends is crucial in order to know what type of skills and experience are most in demand.

Another key trend to consider for the biomanufacturing industry is automation – it can happen at very different levels and create both positive and not-so-positive impact (by creating more work instead of solving problems). On one hand, automated bioreactors, for example, can drastically reduce the number of employee hours required to run processes. You’ll still need people to programme the machines, but after that, they’re less labour intensive. At the same time, automated recruitment tools do not always bring results that are expected of them - one of our clients shared how they sometimes result in resumes for applicants without any science experience being forwarded for review.

Market growth

The global biomanufacturing market is expected to grow from just under US$19,000 million (2020) to over $85,000 million in 2031 (Statista, 2022). And while Cell and Gene Therapy isn’t the biggest piece of this pie, it’s projected to grow by over 20% in the same time period - more than double what is expected of the biotech and biologics markets. All this means growing demand for biomanufacturing professionals.

During a worldwide crisis, biomanufacturing for healthcare maintained its viability, and revenue of almost US$30 billion was generated by the development and administration of vaccines. This COVID-19 pandemic proved that healthcare and science businesses are the safeguards of our economy. The number of biotech IPOs broke all records in 2020 and 2021.

Of course, that growth won’t last forever. Investment and IPO numbers are already starting to drop off. Younger companies who have no commercial product yet might find it challenging if investment similarly falls away as they move into later stages of development - adding another layer of difficulty to the hiring challenges already in place.

Talent gap

There is a huge talent gap in the industry. Growth requires professionals, and they simply don’t exist in the number in which they are required. Many of the new processes and technologies aren’t taught yet, so even sourcing graduates directly from colleges/universities isn’t a viable large-scale solution.

Soft skills are also important - attention to detail, time management and prioritisation, as well as the ability to communicate and work with a team. It’s also important to have manual skills and diligence in order to complete the strict cleaning and safety tasks required. These skills can, however, be easily demonstrated even in unrelated areas of work, meaning that pure life sciences experience isn’t the only pathway to develop the attributes you’re looking for.

The hottest skills in terms of recruitment demand at the moment are aseptic/clean room experience, GMP, bioreactor/fermenter skills and chromatography skills. Downstream, QA and QC technicians are also in high demand.

One thing we need to be careful of is creating more of a talent gap by requiring very specific qualifications, when those skills and experience that could be gained via other certifications. Professor DeKloe shared a conversation he heard as part of a panel discussion with a Biotech CEO who needed people with fermentation skills, and also wanted to encourage greater diversity in his workforce. A local community college taught fermentation and had a diverse range of students. When asked if the CEO required a Bachelor’s degree for those roles (she did) and why, her response was "Because I've never worked at a place that didn't require a Bachelor’s degree." That means that the students with a certification in fermentation were not in the running for her roles, even though they had the skills required. As an industry, it’s important that we include as many potential candidates as possible in our talent pool.

Pandemic-related changes

The BioPlan Survey (2021) indicated that we will see several long-term impacts on how biopharmaceutical manufacturing is carried out.

●       70% of respondents are using outsourcing to help them meet their recruitment needs

●       50% expect more regionalisation of operations (that is, setting up beyond their home city/state)

●       50% expect business to increase

●       50% cite an increase regulatory changes

In addition, 64% of the biopharma suppliers have seen a need for increased SUS manufacturing capacity, and increased funding. Among both companies and their suppliers, ~30% of respondents have also seen a need for digital solutions and automation (BioPlan Associates, 2021).

These stats highlight a lot of recruitment challenges - and opportunities - that the industry as a whole will need to get to grips with over the coming months and years. Challenges include the need to hire in more diverse skills as well as the likely need to expand operations - which will only increase demand for professionals. New technologies mean new regulations are required, so that adds another layer of complexity when it comes to hiring people to handle regulatory compliance. Automation, too, is a double-edged sword: it could reduce the need for employees to run certain processes, but also requires specialist skills to set up and manage. And of course, high demand means high salaries, and it’s increasingly unlikely that regional differences in cost of living will have much impact on the salaries people expect to earn.

But opportunities to help mitigate these challenges include regionalisation - and with it, the increased capacity for remote work (and therefore remote employees!) as well as the ability to outsource, which can be particularly useful for short-term roles, such as setting up a project or taking care of notoriously difficult-to-hire-for phases of work. These trends increase the talent pool available for each role. Community colleges are starting to offer more biomanufacturing courses, although the cost of the specialist equipment means that it’s difficult for them to offer a full overview of, or direct experience in, the field.

It can take a decade for products to get to market - but that means you have a head start on identifying the right people, or types of people, for the roles you will need to fill in the future.

What does this mean for you?

There are many challenges, and it seems like they outnumber the opportunities at times! But we need to remember that the driving force behind the talent gap is an increase in demand and investment in our industry. The pipeline is growing stronger, albeit slowly. So what can you do to increase your ability to attract and retain great talent? Here are our top ten tips (number ten will come as no surprise).

  1.  Spread your search beyond the usual channels - there are professionals with the skills you need who are currently working in other industries.

  2. Don’t be afraid to use contractors, especially for short-term projects.

  3. Support educational organisations who are offering, or may be able to offer, the skills you need. And support recent graduates to gain that experience, too.

  4. Don’t be too prescriptive in your list of ‘essential’ skills and experience. Ask for exactly what you need - every additional item on the list after that only decreases the talent pool who can apply.

  5. Think ahead - far ahead! What role could automation play in your business? What skills will you need in the next phase/phases of development?

  6. When you screen resumes and candidates, make sure that any who aren’t suitable for one specific role are passed onto other areas of the business where their skills may be more appropriate.

  7. Revisit and refresh your list of benefits, from the optional extras right down to things like paid time off and maternity/paternity leave. Offer flexibility and remote working wherever you can. It’s top of the list of priorities for many candidates, and for people who already have related roles, and could be enough to make you stand out from the crowd.

  8. Run exit interviews and staff surveys and allow anonymous responses, or consistently seek anonymous feedback from employees. This helps you find out what they love, what they aren’t impressed with - and what makes them stay.

  9. Play to your strengths as a medical organisation - tell stories about how your business changes lives every day. ‘Purpose’ is rapidly becoming an important part of candidates’ decision-making process when choosing a role.

  10. Partner with experts who know your industry and your challenges, and have a wide network, strong presence at events and inside knowledge.

One of the main advantages of working with specialist Life Sciences recruiters (like Kelly) is that we are deeply involved in the industry, and frequently run learning sessions to stay on top of the latest developments. We analyse the trends and look for solutions on an ongoing basis, so you’ll always have access to the latest recruitment best practice. This allows us to speak your language, understand your challenges and relate to the candidates, too.

Professor DeKloe says: “Working with specialist recruiters of staffing agencies has been essential for the success of many biotechnology programs. Recruiters have a close relationship with faculty about individual students to find a match - as an example, sometimes students are a better match for a smaller company and sometimes a student would benefit from the greater structure provided by a larger company. These partnerships have really been the ‘special sauce’ of student success.”

In some cases, our team works from within client offices, offering a whole range of benefits, such as a dedicated resource specifically for recruitment, where your in-house team may have other HR responsibilities. It can also be much quicker for us to process applications and schedule interviews, and time is of the essence when each candidate may be considering multiple opportunities alongside the one you’re offering!

It’s difficult to identify the right talent in such a changeable world. Let us help you!