Surge in life sciences funding fuels hunt for talent

Companies are looking beyond compensation to lure recruits

June 07, 2021

Increasing FDA approvals— including of record-breaking COVID-19 vaccines — and a surge in funding have life sciences companies busier than ever.

That means they’re needing to lure top talent, a task that’s taking more than just hefty compensation packages. Everything from flexible work policies to amenities like onsite childcare are being deployed to attract the people these companies need.

“The industry is very competitive, which is driving up wages,” says Kevin Wayer, President - Government, Education, Infrastructure and Life Sciences Industries, JLL. “To attract talent, companies are looking to locate where talented employees most want live, work, and play. They are also offering workplaces with a lot of amenities and providing as much flexibility as possible in an industry that primarily operates in lab and manufacturing spaces.”

Part of it is just about making life easier by, for instance, making it convenient for employees to take care of errands at the office that they would otherwise have to do after work or on weekends, Humphrey says.

Many companies include things like convenience stores, dry cleaning, childcare and medical care on the corporate campus. A large West Coast-based company has a mobile dentist at its headquarters’ campus, and the company has its own bus line and ferry service to escort employees to work. Other companies employ mobile hairstylists and massage therapists.

The optimal workplace

Since the bulk of life sciences work is done in lab and manufacturing spaces, it’s important to give employees the flexibility to do heads down work wherever suits them best, Humphrey says.

“Employees have proven that administrative and individual work can be done remotely,” he says. “Now it is up to companies to provide innovations that make the office more appealing. All our clients are doing well so it’s clear you can grow a business with a portion of the staff working remotely but can you innovate?”

Research facilities have evolved to have more collaboration spaces to facilitate innovation, he says, with flexible space built into lab space.

Additional workspaces near where employees live are also a key differentiator.

“If you are living in Massachusetts, you’re probably not in Downtown Boston, which means you are commuting an hour on train,” he says. “So ability to work at a drop-in center closer to home is a powerful recruiting tool. That can be a differentiator. The competition for talent is not just be about right location, amenities, compensation and benefits but also about flexibility and work/life balance.” 


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Facilities management

It’s not just flashy amenities but the ones that matter most to employees that make the difference when looking to attract talent, Humphrey says.

Childcare often tops that list, especially because working mothers have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and are often the skilled workers companies need. Several major life sciences companies offer childcare on-site.

It’s also important that amenities run smoothly. For childcare, that means a smooth check in process, where booking can be reserved on an app, for example.

Life sciences companies are increasingly looking to outsource their facilities management to make these amenities run smoothly so they can focus on their core businesses of drug and medical device discovery (research and development, or R&D) and manufacturing.

 “We help recommend the amenities to clients that will be most impactful, and we also have concierge programs where we manage those amenities for them,” Humphrey says. “Outsourcing facilities management allows companies to focus on the critical work at hand while we handle the workspace reservation systems, amenities programs and all the little details that make the day run more smoothly.” 

New markets?

Amid a constrained talent pool and rising real estate prices in key life sciences markets, companies are thinking about up-and-coming areas to grow where costs are lower but there is still proximity to talent hubs.

There is a lot of new development around the Texas Medical Center in Houston, for example, which offers lower real estate prices than San Francisco and Boston, Humphrey says. Chicago and North Carolina’s Research Triangle are seeing a resurgence of interest as people are starting to get priced out of larger clusters.

“I think we'll start to see some new cluster growth in coming years,” Humphrey says.

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