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How gig workers are taking over the life sciences industry

27 Sep 2019

Tania De Decker of Randstad Sourceright on how pharma, biotech and other life sciences companies are enabling growth through the gig economy.

The life sciences industry is renowned for its rapid hiring practices. When the US Food and Drug Administration finally approves a new medication, therapy or nanodevice, HR departments at pharma and biotech firms must swiftly launch recruitment campaigns – typically aimed at full-time professionals – to scale up operations to get the product out to market as quickly as possible.

However, with the growth of the gig economy, gig workers are quickly emerging as a better way to quickly assemble a cost-effective, agile workforce for this changing sector.

Gone are the days where temporary workers were unskilled. Today, many gig workers are highly skilled, seasoned professionals who have opted for the less rigid schedule and more personal autonomy that freelance work affords. By seeking short-term projects over full-time work, they gain experience with numerous start-ups launching new products.

Contractors expect – and often prefer – to work on short-term projects. They’re generally more accustomed to learning a project and beginning to contribute quickly, and often will bring more energy to those projects.

Gig workers are very often quite fluent in the newest tech tools companies are using in launching new products. Without traditional job security, gig workers often seek self-directed training to beef up their skillsets so they can capture bigger and better contracts.

These workers can also bring valuable perspectives on best practices from having worked at a variety of companies. This expertise cannot be underestimated when groupthink of full-time employees often leads back to the status quo and prevents challenging the way things have always been done.

Flexible systems

One company that embraces new ways of working is Nimbus Therapeutics, a drug company where a large proportion of the workforce are from a contract research organisation.

Most of these are not generalists, but highly skilled specialists and experts who’ve worked with companies of various sizes and products of different kinds. The infusion of flexibility allows Nimbus to fluidly move investment capital up and down and to different areas at a moment’s notice.

Other companies are catching on. In recent years, more pharma and biotech firms have found success moving from vertically integrated workforces to systems of integrated contributors. A strategy professional told The Wall Street Journal in 2017 that in the pharmaceutical industry – along with oil and gas sectors – outside workers were already outnumbering employees at many companies by at least two to one.

Gigging for growth

More and more companies are ditching traditional, top-down, pyramid-shaped workforce models for more plug-and-play, task-oriented systems that integrate internal staff with external contributors from the sectors of tech, healthcare and even academia. The trend shows little evidence of slowing any time soon.

This is great news for consumers. Global demand for pharmaceutical products is accelerating, driven in large part by the proportion of people aged between 65 and 80, which is set to rise to 28pc by 2030. The biotech industry is set to grow at a faster rate than even healthcare broadly, a growth aided by machine learning’s compounding effect on the production of regenerative medicines, therapies, tools and diagnostics, among many others.

To meet these demands, life sciences companies will have to remain cost-conscious while scaling up and down, all while maintaining a productive and animated workforce – a role that gig workers are extremely well-positioned to play.

The gig economy is growing in almost every industry. As technology advancements have made remote work and flexible employment arrangements easier than ever, millions have dropped out of traditional work to enjoy the independence that contract work allows.

In the life science industry, the most industrious companies will elect to hire gig workers and benefit from the flexibility they can deliver to fast-growing businesses.

By Tania de Decker

Tania De Decker serves as the managing director for global strategic accounts at the Randstad Enterprise Group. With more than 25 years of experience in all facets of talent acquisition solutions and technology, she steers Randstad’s strategic clients to ensure HR and talent leaders can play a pivotal role in driving growth locally, across regions and globally.

Updated, 9.45am, 30 September 2019: This article was updated to clarify that Nimbus Therapeutics uses staff from a contract research organisation, and not gig workers as previously stated.

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