The views of this article are the perspective of the author and may not be reflective of Confessions of the Professions.
It’s no secret that the UK is falling behind the rest of the world when it comes to encouraging students to not only study, but to pursue a career within some STEM subjects. The skills shortages within the life science and chemistry-specific related roles in the UK cannot be ignored; we must work towards maintaining a world-leading position for medicinal and vaccine research and development, as well as in other areas such as food and clothing technology, biomedical science, microbiology, pharmacology and forensic science.
In this article, Radleys identifies what companies and universities can be doing to not only attract top talent and encourage people to pursue a career within science, but how to retain employees, too.
The 2018 What do graduates do? report from graduate careers experts Prospects found that only 16.6% of chemistry graduates left university to be hired in science roles, with 19.9% entering the job market in unrelated sectors. Along with the current skills shortage within science roles, a recent report has also identified Brexit as a critical threat to job growth in the UK within this industry. One of its disruptive effects is a reduction in the number of scientists and engineers from mainland Europe looking to further their careers in the UK.
Jodie Murray, a recruitment consultant from STEM Graduates believes that graduates should be advised better on the different types of careers available to graduates. She said:
‘Universities should be inviting companies for guest lectures to speak to candidates about what they do, how a science degree is useful in their company and specific roles which are available. I don’t believe there is necessarily a skills shortage, but more a case of graduates not being aware of all the careers options available and what roles they are qualified to pursue and enhancing their awareness will make a real difference’.
The demand for staff in specific roles has also resulted in an increase in recruitment rates. Darren Orr, Director of STEM Recruitment Solutions believes marrying up the actual requirements of what the science industry expects from new graduates, and the training and experience that they receive at University is a huge issue affecting skills shortages in the industry. He believes another issue contributing to the number of vacant roles is the reluctance of employers wanting to hire graduates. He said:
‘There are concerns about social maturity in young people which ultimately is a result of mistrust – this is a stigma that needs to be broken.
‘Investment in new graduates and staff training has been at an all-time low. There is no contingency market and clients have opted to pay more or wait indefinitely for the right candidate. The business strategy for changing this is to fast-track staff and develop more time to planning and executing staff training.’
Addressing skills shortages in the industry
The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) worked with over 30 companies to identify the areas of significant concern. From Genomics to Clinical pharmacology, identifying these gaps is just the first step. Employers within the industry must work towards promoting career diversity as well as the specific roles which are available. Marketing an attractive career to attract top talent is no different to marketing a new health product or TV series; you need to work at it and target the right people for the best outcomes and results.
What are the areas of most significant concern?
- Bioinformatics and Chemoinformatics – the science of using software tools to understand biological and chemical data to help develop new treatments.
- Clinical pharmacology – experts working at the cutting edge of real-world data and clinical trials to help maximize the positive effects of a medicine and minimise the unwanted side effects.
- Genomics – sequencing and analysis of the human genome to understand how to develop new treatments for diseases.
- Immunology – the study of disease caused by disorders of the immune system, vital for the protection of infectious diseases
Promoting career diversity and the roles available
There’s a lot more to a career in science than stereotypes suggest, and this is a message that needs to be pushed out by employers throughout the industry, as well as by allied organisations such as the British Science Association. It is important to encourage potential employees to discover the different roles the industry has to offer as well as the many sectors these roles exist in; from an analytical chemist to a pharmacologist or even a forensic scientist role, there are many different career options available, with plenty of them offering progression.
What’s more, having something – or someone – to aspire to is often all that’s needed to inspire change and initiate action. Employers need to spend more time ensuring positive messages are sent out and get better at celebrating and drawing attention to the achievements of scientists and the exciting things they are doing within the industry.
Take advantage of the digital world – social media channels and blogs are a great way to provide coverage and creates awareness about the work of existing scientists and the kind of opportunities that are on offer.
Attracting a new workforce
It is essential that the industry as a whole works towards inspiring more young people to pursue a STEM career. New workforces are emerging – enter Gen Z – and they work in different ways to the current and previous generations. It’s clear that this demographic has very specific career expectations; we hear that they crave job security and thrive in environments where they can innovate and express their individuality – making a career in science the perfect solution, right? They are seeking meaningful jobs which will offer opportunities for advancement alongside the opportunity to learn new skills.
For the industry to attract and retain the best talent, it’s essential that universities, businesses and government work harder in placing graduates into science jobs, and quicker. Schools and academies can be helping too. Teaching children about science, technology, engineering and mathematics at an early age helps them to grasp fundamental concepts about the natural world, laying the groundwork and possibility for deeper learning. STEM learning doesn’t have to be limited to the classroom – parents can support and aid early learning too.
Adopting software solutions to enhance productivity and employee wellbeing
Gen Z is the first generation to have truly grown up with technology, so being able to use it to enhance their job prospects and develop their careers would be second nature to them. Employers can use this to their advantage, as adopting and implementing cloud based solutions and other forms of technology will enhance productivity and encourage employee well-being.
Implementing integrated software solutions will not just benefit the younger workforce you might be considering to attract; it has unrivalled benefits for your current workforce, too. Administrative work hinders employee’s ability to focus their attention on their core tasks, but certain software solution systems have the ability to strip out old paper-based processes.
What’s more, organisations are becoming increasingly more collaborative and teams spend more and more time delivering projects collectively, which means an internal communications system is a must. Having a beneficial infrastructure in place to support collaborative work is a benefit for the entire group. Internal communication platforms give employees the ability to see updates, track timelines, share information and easily connect from apps or from computer desktops.
Considering the benefits of adopting software solutions and keeping up with technology will not only make pursuing a career in science an appealing option to the current emerging workforce, but will increase efficiency and enhance productivity throughout the lab and other areas of the business.
Understand recognition is the key to retention
It is clear that employers are struggling to find, recruit and retain suitable people within specific roles within science. Recognition is the key to retaining staff – by recognising and rewarding hard work, your workers will feel valued. Feeling valued, recognised and respected is within some of the top reasons for employers staying at their current place of work, so is definitely an aspect to take advantage of.
As well as feeling recognised and valued, career growth, learning and development is an important factor amongst talented employees – so promoting this within a career is advantageous.
By ensuring employees have the correct tools at their fingertips, they will be able to learn by themselves and identify areas where they can develop and improve. Setting targets and using technology that shows how workers are performing in real-time will help drive job satisfaction and wellbeing levels.