Presented By: CBRE
How Life Sciences Companies Should Navigate the Sector’s Toughest Labor Market Ever
With the life sciences sector prospering beyond imagination over the last few years, CBRE took an in-depth look at how companies in the sector are securing research talent in its new report, “Life Sciences Research Talent 2022: The Search to Sustain an Industry Boom.” Partner Insights spoke to Ian Anderson, senior director of research at CBRE, about the report’s findings.
Commercial Observer: The report’s subtitle is “The search to sustain an industry.” Given the sector’s natural momentum over the last few years, is there really any apprehension about whether this boom will continue?
Ian Anderson: To just about every insider in the industry, the answer is no. There is too much innovation occurring. The “search to sustain” mainly refers to the fact that the industry continues to grow, but against one of the tightest labor markets many people have ever seen. So it’s becoming more of a struggle for a lot of our clients to expand in this environment.
At the same time, though, there has been a pullback in industry funding over the last year, and we expect that to moderate the rapid pace of growth we’ve been experiencing. But overall, prospects for industry expansion remain bright.
How dire are the labor challenges in the sector right now?
I wouldn’t say they’re dire. I would just say they’re challenging. Many of our clients and others in the industry have been caught off-guard in how hard they have to work to attract talent. The unemployment rate for life, physical and social scientists was below 1 percent in April. To secure talent in this environment, you have to be able to differentiate your company, the purpose of your mission, and demonstrate that you’re impacting people’s lives.
The report notes that more young people than ever are pursuing careers in life science. Will there be enough to fully staff the next generation of life sciences research positions?
Yes. More people are graduating with life sciences expertise than ever before. According to our data, between 2015 and 2020, new graduates with life science expertise grew twice as fast as the number of life science researchers. So we’re comfortable that the educational establishment is responding meaningfully enough to support future growth prospects for the industry.
We know about obvious life sciences hubs like Cambridge and areas in California. Talk about some of the lesser-known, emerging pockets for life sciences talent, and why new life science sectors are popping up at such a fast rate.
Let’s talk first about the major markets that have not been big life sciences markets traditionally — Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, and Miami, to name a few. They are emerging rapidly mainly because they have world-class health care and/or university institutions. So they have the infrastructure to make a mark in the industry right now. Then there are some much smaller markets emerging, like New Haven, Worcester, Albany — all in the greater New England region that benefit from the overflow from the Boston and New York clusters, but also their significant universities. Sacramento, similarly, benefits from a major university presence, and from overflow from the Bay Area cluster. One unusual, possibly overlooked market is Nashville, which is growing by leaps and bounds thanks, in part, to Vanderbilt. A local research institute or university is essential for any life sciences cluster’s future prospects.
COVID instigated a series of migrations throughout the U.S. How did that affect the major life sciences clusters over the last two years?
It didn’t affect us as much as some other industries, like high tech. But it did give a small advantage to Sun Belt or lower-cost markets, where some in the industry might have relocated, and it might give certain researchers the desire to stay in some of these lower-cost markets in the future, and thus give further reason for industry to migrate there.
What did the report find regarding what is motivating people to pursue careers in life sciences today, especially given the pandemic?
The pandemic clearly brought the life sciences industry into a level of prominence it hasn’t had in decades. With that, it’s been attracting more people to the industry to see what difference they can make in people’s lives. People are entering this industry at the highest rate in decades, and the amount of people pursuing biological or biomedical science degrees has grown at a rapid pace. A lot of that is due to the opportunities in the industry itself, the future growth trajectory, new innovations, and just much greater prospects for careers in this industry than there were 20 years ago. The pandemic has amplified all that.
How can life sciences companies use the information in this report to help recruit the best research talent, and what are some of the most important steps for them to take in those recruiting efforts?
Companies need to be aware that the paycheck may be a lesser priority to candidates than it has been in a long time. Companies need to be able to differentiate how researchers can affect people’s lives by joining that company. It’s a very different pitch to gain talent in today’s challenging market. More strategically, there are a lot of markets for talent that life sciences companies may be overlooking. The report shows that there are several smaller or less traditional markets that they should look to in order to expand their talent base.
Is there anything else you’d like to highlight regarding what people should focus on from this report?
When we talk about our rankings — the report ranks the best life sciences markets for accessing research talent, creating a comprehensive score for each — there are a couple of takeaways. For one, it is surprising to see Washington D.C. (No. 2) and New York (No. 4) score so high, even above traditional life sciences markets like San Francisco (No. 3) (in Washington’s case), San Diego (No. 5), or Raleigh (No. 6). That really has to do with massive talent and the possibly overlooked number of graduates with life sciences expertise. Some of the Sun Belt hubs are surprising too, like Houston (No. 13), Dallas (No. 16), Atlanta (No. 14), and Miami (No. 22). What was also remarkable about our report was how decisively Boston (No. 1) scored across different ratings we gave to evaluate all these markets, and how much higher it is than the rest of the markets. If anybody had any doubts about the future longevity of Boston as a leading hub for this industry, this report puts those doubts to rest.