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On Wednesday, Feb. 24, NCBIO hosted a webinar on “New Dynamics in Talent Recruitment” as part of the NCBIO Life Sciences Forums. Panelists discussed the challenges and opportunities that have arisen in recruiting and retaining employees during the pandemic. 

Stephen Williams, practice lead, North Carolina sciences at Aerotek, served as moderator of a panel comprising Andrew Herdman, Ph.D., vice president, group human resources at Mayne Pharma; Terry Page, director, talent acquisition, at G1 Therapeutics; and Joseph Ruiz, Ph.D., president, at Enzerna Biosciences.

The program was sponsored by Chubb, the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurer, and Research Solutions, which provides organizations with easy, on-demand access to any scholarly journal article through its cloud-based Article Galaxy platform. Both sponsors are part of the BIO Business Solutions program available to NCBIO members for cost savings across a variety of products and services used by life science companies. 

To kick things off, Williams asked to panel to describe how the COVID pandemic had affected their recruiting in general.  

Now that many jobs are being done remotely, Page said, G1 has had more opportunities to attract talent from all over the United States.  

“We’ve been able to go outside RTP and not require people relocate,” she said. “That’s been a positive byproduct of COVID.” 

Herdman and Ruiz both said that using video conferencing to conduct early interviews has allowed them to meet and screen many more applicants than the traditional process of in-person interviews permitted.

Managing a virtual workforce 

Herdman said that the pandemic had forced Mayne to “really up our communications and leadership game. The remote relationship is fundamentally different and requires us to be very intentional about everything we do.” 
  Page said that the loss of hallway conversations and other informal interactions has made bonding as a team has been more difficult. On the other hand, Zoom meetings that are interrupted by pets and kids have given us a candid window into our colleague’s lives, she said, and that brings people closer. 

Return to the old ways 

Williams asked the panelists if they want to return to doing things the pre-COVID way. Page said that preexisting employees were more eager to come back to the office while newer hires were more interested in continuing to work remotely. Herdman agreed that it will be “hard to put the genie back in the bottle” and go back to a fully in-person operation. While he said he believed there was no substitute for meeting face-to-face to build relationships, he suspected that practices at Mayne would be forever different thanks to the pandemic. 

Maintaining productivity 

Panelists were asked how their leadership was ensuring that remote workers remained productive. Page said that G1 was becoming more focused on hiring people who can work remotely and stay on target and focus independently. Herdman said that regular check-ins with all employees were critical and it is much harder for new hires to fit into an organization. He said it is important to ask how are you? You’re not just asking about work, he said. 
  “Isolation is an enemy that we need to fight collectively.” He reminded participants to remember that younger employees may be more susceptible to isolation because they may not have established a large network of family, friends and colleagues yet.

Operating in a strong labor market 

As the leader of a small startup, Ruiz said it was more difficult for him to compete on salary with larger companies for new graduates. He said he focuses on building a better benefits package than most startups.  

“If I’m a feeder system for higher ed or a better job, that’s fine,” he said. “I’m a mentor and trainer for their next job.” He said he prepares for turnover by thoroughly documenting procedures so that new employees get up to speed faster. Ruiz added that he likes to see people move on to a bigger job, and preparing candidates for their next role is something he uses as a recruiting tool. 

Page agreed that competing with larger companies can be difficult, but at G1, it is often the science and mission that draws people to the company, she said. Focusing on the total package and not just salary is important. 

She said it can be harder to retain employees in a hot labor market now that many of them can work from anywhere. You have to make an effort to appreciate employees, give them a voice and make sure there is there an upward path for them.  

Growing the talent pool 

The panelists agreed that it was important for companies to work to grow the pool of available talent rather than recruiting employees from one another. They suggested partnering with local high schools and community colleges to identify talent and provide a pathway to solid careers. Internship programs can also help to groom new talent.