October 13, 2022

The talk on talent

By Conor McKechnie and Dodi Axelson

The talk on talent

Within the life sciences industry, there has been a longstanding conversation around one of the industry’s most difficult challenges. That challenge is talent. In more detail, it is that the access to a global talent pool remains difficult. In this longer than usual conversation, Conor and Dodi speak with Darrin Morrissey, the CEO of NIBRT, Anne-Cecile Potmans, general manager of Fast Trak and CDMO services at Cytiva, and Nikki Soares, global talent acquisition leader at Cytiva.

We discuss how the industry is stepping up its resilience for customers and patients. To find, train, retrain, and retain talent is what matters in this episode of Discovery Matters.


CONOR: Okay, let's talk about something that is really hot on people's minds at the moment. I mean, it's the 'big quits', or 'quiet quitting' or the 'hunt for talent'.

DODI: All of that is really meaty stuff. And our industry, biopharma/biotech whatever you want to call it, has an incredibly interesting problem or challenge. Anyway, it is a great topic of interest.

CONOR: And that's why we brought together some experts. Now, dear listener, if you follow Cytiva on YouTube, or LinkedIn, this should be familiar to you.

DODI: That's right. We broadcast these interviews live from the BIO convention in San Diego in June.

CONOR: And that does seem a long time ago, but it is part of our Biopharma Resilience Index. One of the pillars of the index is talent.

DODI: And talent is what matters today on Discovery Matters. Hello, and welcome to this live broadcast from Cytiva. Here we are in person, we're in San Diego at the BIO international convention.

CONOR: And it's been a long time since we've been in person at a convention. In fact, the last time was two years ago, three years ago in 2019 at BIO convention in Philadelphia.

DODI: Exactly. And this time, we're talking about talent. The whole industry is talking about talent. It is good to be in the state of California, because it's incredible what's happening here in terms of talent in the life sciences industry.

CONOR: It is and the topics of discussion here are about how talent is a key leg in building resilience for the future of the industry.

DODI: So, in California, Conor, how many people do you think are employed by the life sciences industry?

CONOR: Okay, well, looking around here, I'd say like all of them, but I know it's not. But 200 000?

DODI: 500 000! In 11 000 companies, they're generating quite a bit of money for the state of California. I'm going to give you a number tell me if you think it's high or low. 290 billion US dollars?

CONOR: I think that's a trick question. I think that's exactly the number. Well, you've read the script. Well done. Well done. I have a fact as well. Okay, almost a third of San Diegans who are employed or employed in some way or another in the life sciences industry, whether through academic institutions or the companies that they work for.

DODI: We call them San Diegans. We could talk about talent till we are blue in the face.

CONOR: Yes, but we don't know anything about it. So, let's talk to people who do.

DODI: Yes, let's do that. And so, we're going to introduce you to our guests. Calling in this morning from Dublin, Ireland, we've got Darrin Morrissey, the CEO of NIBRT. We have from Stockholm, Sweden, Anne-Cecile Potmans, who is our general manager of Fast Trak and CDMO services at Cytiva. And Nikki Soares, who is temporarily in Seattle, Washington. Nikki is our global talent acquisition leader at Cytiva. So, let's get to know a little bit more about our guests. Darrin, tell us a bit more please about NIBRT, what does it stand for first of all and what does NIBRT do?

DARRIN MORRISSEY: Thanks Dodi and thank you for the invitation to speak today and sadly not able to be there in sunny San Diego with you all. NIBRT's HQ is in Dublin, Ireland and it stands for the National Institute for Bioprocessing, Research and Training. We were established about ten years ago as a collaboration between IDA Ireland which is Ireland's inward investment agency and a number of Ireland's leading higher education institutes and universities. And the objective behind NIBRT was to support the biopharma manufacturing industry to address their research and training needs and then also to support IDA and attracting inward investment into the country. Since 2010, IDA has invested about 75 million in the building. We're a simulated GMP facility with end-to-end biopharma manufacturing equipment, state of the art kit and processes. And we now train as many as 4 500 people face to face in this facility every year. Students postgraduates, people want to want to do career changes. And we train even more people internationally, through our online training programs and further partnerships. And then we also work with the multinational industry on collaborative research projects.

DODI: Wow, you're reaching across and building a lot of bridges and talent seems like a focus. What does that mean a day in your life is like?

DARRIN MORRISSEY: A day in my life? We're a facility of about 100 staff. And we're really a diverse staffing model ourselves with lots of graduates and postgraduates. So, a lot of my day actually is quite focused on sourcing and retaining our own talent.

CONOR: I love that: it's talent around talent acquisition.

DARRIN MORRISSEY: Exactly. And then we're a self-funded agency with government money that comes in as core funding as well. So, a lot of the time, what we're doing is we're engaging with our stakeholders, with our clients focused on their needs, but then also work working with government stakeholders, to make sure we're meeting the needs of the country as well. And I think today, a lot of my focus is on an expansion that we're doing to this facility, we're moving into the cell and gene therapy area, and we have a lot of building work going on. So, I'm trying to keep the construction people quiet out there at the moment, but that's dominating a lot of my waking hours.

CONOR: That's been a big topic here at the convention, actually a number of talks as the technologies and the therapeutic modalities expand the need to train people who may have a lot of experience in monoclonal antibodies, for example, in new therapeutic areas. Let's go to Nikki, same question to you. What does your day look like? What kind of challenges are you facing and how have things changed over the pandemic?

NIKKI SOARES: Yes, so in leading our global talent acquisition team, my job is really focused on helping the organization find the talent that they need for current and for the future, you know, making sure that we have the right people in the right places at the right time. So, what that means is that I spent a lot of time talking to our leaders about what are their needs? What kind of people do they need? Where did they need them? How many do they need so that I can get my team mobilized to go out and find those people and get them into the organization at the right time. It also includes building relationships with universities and our diversity organizations so that we have different channels to go out to, to bring talent into the organization, whether we're talking about early talent pipelines through universities from bachelors on up to postdoc level, as well as our diversity partners who help us find talent in underrepresented spaces.

DODI: When you are talking to leaders about what kind of talent do they need, and then you go out and you're talking to candidates, the competition for the candidates is coming from different areas. So, you're not necessarily competing with companies in the life sciences space, you're also competing with employers who are in IT, who are in Silicon Valley, who are experts in AI, I mean the field is so different for you, is it not? And how does that affect how you recruit talent?

NIKKI SOARES: Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, while we do see a large portion of our talent coming from the life sciences space, and you know, it is hyper competitive with the companies in our space, trading talent back and forth, but that's not enough to fill the needs that we have across the industry. So, we are seeing people coming in from the high-tech space from the automotive and other heavy manufacturing organizations. So, that we can really go to where that best talent is, not just within our industry, because we've got to grow the pipeline in order to fill the growth plans for our organization in particular, but for the industry as a whole.

DODI: And seen at Fast Trak, you're also like Darrin was talking about is focused on retaining talent and on training. Introduce us to Fast Trak briefly please.

ANNE-CECILE POTMANS: So, Fast Trak is a global service organization who helps biopharma and biotech companies to accelerate their molecule to market. So, we have supported our customer for the past 35 years with process development, but we have received a lot of requests from our customers to share our expertise with them. So, this is why we have developed the Fast Trak training education program to train the next generation of talent, but also to reinforce specialist knowledge in the bioprocessing skills and in the field.

CONOR: That's fabulous and when you see the focus coming from the customers, what's the draw now? What are your customers they're asking you in the team for?

ANNE-CECILE POTMANS: So, they are a different type of training given, a large range of training. We've always had the equipment training, Cytiva is an equipment provider, they of course have played a big role in training bioprocessing on the equipment and technology. But the customers are asking for more value processing, application, to troubleshooting skills to ensure that they can move faster in process development, that's also critical to get faster. There is a diversification of the pipeline, so they have asked for training on mAbs and recombinant protein, which is still there. But asking also for new skills.

CONOR: Why don't we go to a lightning round? And this is a question for the audience as well. Very quickly, in one short phrase, what's the biggest or the most surprising trend with respect to talent that you've seen in the last two and a half or so years?

DARRIN MORRISSEY: You've asked an Irish guy to give you one short sentence, but I will try and keep it succinct. I think for me, a huge increase in the diversity and the complexity of the biopharma molecules and products that we're manufacturing. So, including your AgNPs, your cell therapies, gene therapies, and so on. For me, that's impacting the type of people we need to be hiring for the future.

CONOR: Superb Nikki, what about you?

NIKKI SOARES: For me, it's the intensity of the competition.

CONOR: A great time to be a candidate in this market, indeed. Anne-Cecile, what about yourself?

ANNE-CECILE POTMANS: I think it would be all the new technology, automation, digital tools to accelerate the timeline. I think that's where also you compete with other industry as Nikki mentioned.

DODI: Well, thank you, everybody. That's really interesting. Now we're going to bring some more data to you. A little bit more than a year ago was 2021. Cytiva, undertook some research, and we developed the Global Biopharma Resilience Index. This uncovered five areas that are major challenges for the industry. Talent, remarkably, was the pillar that presented itself as most challenging for the industry, we're really having a hard time knowing how to obtain and retain talent. But let's have a look at a summary of that resilience index. And I think that you will enjoy some of this data. Let's have a look.

VIDEO EXCERPT: The biopharmaceutical industry depends on a strong pipeline of specialist skills. Yes, 25% of executives state that sourcing digital, manufacturing, and R&D talent has become increasingly difficult. More than half of the executives state this is due to the rising cost of talent. And only 20% believe that their domestic labor regulations facilitate the sourcing of talent from abroad.

DODI: More information on cytiva.com/resilience. So, you can find out more if you like.

CONOR: And Anne-Cecile I know that you've perused, looked through, worked, and reacted to the data. What is it that stands out from the resilience index for you as a most important takeaway as a business leader?

ANNE-CECILE POTMANS: I think the sourcing of talent in the biopharma from biopharma industry is not new. But what the data confirms is that it is becoming increasingly complex and increasingly more expensive. But we see that beyond the traditional resourcing talent, we know about process developers, engineers, as it has been for years and is still the case, but now it's not only for mAbs and recombinant proteins, but we are also seeing that we need to increase talent in the new pipelines for cell and gene therapy, or mRNA, or exosome. And in addition to that, we are trying to keep up with automation and digital that we need to train and so that's why it's making it even more complex and more expensive.

CONOR: So, related to that, we've had a question flash up on the screen, and it says where's the biggest potential for people in the non-life sciences space to get involved in things like cell and gene therapy? What could somebody who is perhaps not a cell biologist get involved with in this space?

ANNE-CECILE POTMANS: We are seeing a lot of transfer from across other industries especially everything with digital skills, for example a digital skills automation engineer. And I know that you Darrin train a lot of them at NIBRT facility?

DARRIN MORRISSEY: Yeah, for sure. And we're seeing quite a diverse range of people coming through, particularly on reskilling courses that the Irish government funds. A particular fund called the Springboard Plus fund. And it's everywhere from nuts-and-bolts engineers and technicians coming from with more digital background and heavy engineering background. But what we're also seeing, which is very interesting, is talking to HR directors within the biopharma manufacturing companies, they are now talking about what they call Plan B plus Plan C plus Plan D. In fact, what they're talking about is casting the net ever wider, and creating graduate recruitment programs to take in, frankly, a wide diversity of graduates. So not just life science, because their view is if you get a smart person you can work with them over a period of time, and you get better long-term retention as well.

DODI: There's wonderful simplicity in what you just said, Darrin, is people are eager to learn and a smart person can apply their intelligence to many different fields. And we had a comment from Jose who said, 'It is a great time to be a candidate', we had a comment from Adam that said, 'Just knowing stuff is table stakes, and you've got to be able to demonstrate that you are that curious person with an ability to apply your skills to different areas'. So, Nikki, I'd like to ask you, what do you want to hear from candidates? How can a candidate best present himself, or herself, or themselves? As one of those one of those appealing candidates?

NIKKI SOARES: I think it's about really articulating the skills and experiences that they've gained, that they can bring over to our organization, even if they haven't been in the life sciences space. If you've got the technology skills, if you've got the collaboration and teamwork skills, if you're a person who can roll up your sleeves and dig in there, and just try to figure things out, those are the kinds of traits that we're looking for, to bring into the organization, regardless of the role that we're talking about.

CONOR: It's a remarkable sign of the maturing of the industry, really, it's suddenly become something that's very attractive to people who weren't necessarily specializing in it in their first, or second, or even third degrees, to really draw in talent from across a whole series of different industries. And we've got people on from all over the world, Darrin, and Anne-Cecile. So, I've got a question here around like the geographical pool of talent, what are you seeing in terms of where candidates are coming from? Not just the backgrounds technologically or from the discipline point of view, but where in the world is the biotech industry drawing talent from?

DODI: Does location matter?

DARRIN MORRISSEY: I think from my perspective, mobility is a great thing. And I think mobility from around the world is actually a crucial thing that the industry needs. We're an island that's a small albeit very open economy with about 60% of our populace now educated to third level, and with about nine out of the top ten biopharma companies based in Ireland, and over 40 000 people directly employed, but even with a throughput of around 100 000 graduates a year now, not all life science, maybe 30% of them around life science. It's still not enough. It's not enough to feed the pipeline. So, in Ireland, we are seeing increased graduate and postgraduate migration, coming to solve the issue coming from European countries, so EU obviously there's lots of good mobility, but also coming from what we call EU treaty countries. So, South America in particular, we're seeing lots of pull from places like Brazil, Argentina, and then Middle Eastern countries as well, and India and China. So, they'd be the footfall we're seeing.

CONOR: And so, Anne-Cecile, have you seen something similar in terms of the talent that the biotech industry is bringing to you and your team? Are they from all over the world?

ANNE-CECILE POTMANS: Yes, all over the world, especially within Fast Trak as we are a global organization. So, we have six sites globally. And we see the process development talent coming from all over the world. The US, China, India, you know, of course, Europe, APAC, or Korea. What we are seeing also, which is interesting is that people can move quite a lot, I think is important. And from the biopharma perspective, we think that there is an established strategy to be able to have an increasing coverage of talent, and not necessary to have talent on site. So, within companies, for example, establishing a global footprint as early as possible to target the widest possible pool of talent, for example, China or Europe if you're in the US as early as possible. And we have been thinking a lot more about the outsourcing model, which are the roles that the biopharma/biotech company need to select to have in house, and what are the roles that are looking for multiple specialists capability that can be all over the world. So, outsourcing is also important. And of course, we mentioned about the root pool of talent, COVID-19 has demonstrated that a lot of work can be done, at least for some part remotely. And the company now finds time and to propose a hybrid model work to increase the talent pool to attract more talent. So, it's really a global talent coverage. And I think those with strategy hubs get access to a larger pool of talent.

DODI: Oh, there's so much to pick on.

CONOR: I know, I was going to dive in there, but over to you.

DODI: So, perhaps the bench becomes virtual. I want to talk to Nikki about future of work because Anne-Cecile mentioned the hybrid working model, but I also want to volley back to Darrin very quickly, because NIBRT isn't just focused on Ireland, you're working with the Jefferson Institute in the United States, also Guangzhou China. Talk about how your global focus is finding talent and addressing the talent need, globally?

DARRIN MORRISSEY: Yeah, we certainly adapted our philosophy in the last four or five years to really appreciate that talent is a true global issue. It's not just a local or regional issue for biopharma. And basically, we believe that biopharma manufacturing countries that might be a little bit further ahead than other countries can play a really strong role in addressing those global shortages. So, in recognition of this, we established a program called the NIBRT Global Partners Program, which essentially is like a licensing arrangement whereby, with trusted partners, NIBRT licenses our curriculum out to those facilities to pass on that training and to train people in those locations. As you said, we've got a partnership with Jefferson, part of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, we have one with China, in Guangzhou province, and we have what we call KNIBRT, so in Korea, as part of a link to that.

DODI: Really, did you call it KNIBRT?

DARRIN MORRISSEY: Absolutely. And I do want to acknowledge that Cytiva played a very strong role in all of those partnerships and helping us to make the connections and to bring it together. So, we genuinely see this as a real team effort across boundaries and globally.

CONOR: And that global flow of talent often raises questions around whether or not you know, regions like the East Coast of the US, the West Coast of the US, Europe, Ireland, and so on, whether our talent sinks for the rest of the world who are trying to build up their local talent. But we've seen talent flowing into those areas, and then of course, flowing back to those areas, back to China back to India, to set up set up companies. Nikki, can we come back to you around the future of work? There was a question around how the biotech industry can encourage and embrace the idea of virtual working, of remote work. Obviously, it can't all be virtual because people need to do stuff actually still in facilities. But, you know, what does the future of work look like from your point of view?

NIKKI SOARES: Yes, I think our leaders have been very thoughtful about what work absolutely has to take place at a site. For example, if we have not quite figured out how to put a clean room in someone's home, that we can manufacture our products, but there are so many other areas where there is flexibility about how and where that work can get done and our leaders have really been thoughtful about that identifying where it's not as critical to have someone in an office or not in an office every day. And then having conversations with our associates about, you know, what kind of flexibility is going to work for them and for the organization so that we can put the right structure in place. And that really helps us from a talent attraction perspective, because talent has been loud and clear, in the last couple of years that they've really enjoyed the flexibility that they saw with the pandemic and everybody working from home and wanting to be able to continue that as much as possible, or, you know, there are those who like myself prefer to have a mix of having some time in the office and some time at home. Being able to accommodate those interests and still fill the needs of the business, you know, really helps us to get the right talent that we need.

CONOR: That's a really good comment, the world has become local in terms of talent. I mean, we talk about this a lot with respect to the impact of remote working and fully remote teams in the leadership team of Cytiva. And one of the biggest challenges I think that we as an organization face is how do you maintain the culture of an organization when you're missing that face-to-face environment that really shows people how we are with each other, how we are with leaders, how we work with each other, and so on. And getting that culture to translate into the online world requires a lot of effort and puts new demands on business leaders on people leaders, and of course on associates around the globe. So, it's a really, really interesting time to be in the industry.

DODI: Speaking of attracting talent, and there were so many newcomers who came into not just Cytiva, but hundreds and thousands of life sciences companies and attaching themselves to the culture of a new company. But what about retaining talent in this environment. Anne-Cecile, I'd like you to discuss how you are helping our customers retain our talent? And how are you retaining your talent in your team?

ANNE-CECILE POTMANS: Retention and upskilling skills are critical at any company and Cytiva included. Beyond the compensation benefits, which are critical, especially in a very competitive environment, Cytiva has done a lot of work in the career pathing how to ensure we have a clear path within the functions, or across function and how you move from a function to another and how you can help the talent to move from a function to another. And of course, what is critical for retaining the talent is to invest in their own personal development. So, continuous training is critical, both in terms of technical training for example, in Fast Trak, how do you train on new modalities, how you've trained on digital solution, but also on soft skills training. It is important that talent understand that we care about their own development. And I think that's what we try also to do for our customer. We have a lot of expertise, my team of scientists that are not expected to share and through the Fast Trak training program, they can share these perspectives and train the customer talent, so they can retain them. And when you upskill people, when you invest time and money in the development, they want to stay with you.

CONOR: That's absolutely fantastic Anne-Cecile. It really gives you kind of a sense of hope for the future of the industry. Let's do another lightning round. And this again is for the audience as well, because we're seeing some fantastic comments and insights coming in from the audience. So, what are you optimistic about in terms of overcoming the talent challenge that the industry, as a whole, is facing?

NIKKI SOARES: NIKKI SOARES I think it's really about the purpose and mission of what Cytiva does in particular, but the industry as a whole as well, I am just feeling that connection to how we are addressing the world's health problems, there is no place I'd rather be.

CONOR: If you're out there in the automotive industry, if you're out there in food and beverage, join us in the life sciences industry where there's real purpose. I mean, not the cars aren't good, not the food isn't good, you know, but saving the world, right? Darrin, what about you? What gives you hope?

DARRIN MORRISSEY: I think in a kind of a strangely counterintuitive way the last two years gives me hope, because I think that biopharma really demonstrated its ability to be adaptable, to be able to be agile, and to address the requirements of COVID-19. So, the speed with which we generated novel vaccines and produced them in the billions of doses we have. That makes me optimistic, I think if we can carry that forward that would be good.

DODI: Anne-Cecile, what makes you feel optimistic?

ANNE-CECILE POTMANS: So, for me what makes me optimistic is the collaboration within the industry. Between academia and biopharma, between the biopharma and the different training providers, collaboration is key, no one's going to do it alone. It's complex, expensive, you know, time consuming. So, I see all the collaboration around the world and that makes me hopeful about the future.

CONOR: Collaboration, we came through it, and there's a lot more to contribute. I mean, look, this has been absolutely fantastic. Thank you to all of the audience and your comments and your insights. You know, I think it's important that as a player in the industry, we're transparent about the challenges that the industry faces. And it's not just us, it's our customers, it's our competitors as well, we're all facing into this headwind and collaboration is the key thing: what can we do to help the industry mature and become much, much more resilient in the future.

DODI: And being willing to be agile. Nikki was talking about the future of work; the reality is we have to be adaptable to attract and retain the right talent who is not shy anymore about what they want from an employer.

CONOR: Exactly. And we have to manage the value proposition of working in our industry as effectively as we can.

DODI: And finally, not to forget sunny California is a fantastic place, an exciting employer for life sciences industry. No shade on Stockholm where I am based.

CONOR: Or London, where I'm based...

DODI: Or Dublin where Darrin is based, or where you are based in the audience. So once again, thank you very much for watching this live broadcast with Cytiva. We've been coming to you from San Diego at the BIO International Conference. Keep up the optimism.

CONOR: If you're listening to us on the replay in the Discovery Matters podcast. Stay tuned. We'll do more on talent.

DODI: Exactly. And keep listening. Take care. Thanks a lot.

CONOR: Thank you very much.

DODI: Our executive producer is Andrea Kilin, and this podcast is produced with the help of Bethany Grace Armitt-Brewster and it's much more than help. Bethany does lots of work on this podcast. Editing, mixing, and music is by Tom Henley and Banda Produktions. You're speaking with...

CONOR: Dodi Axelson.

DODI: That's right. And Conor McKechnie.

CONOR: I am indeed making sure you rate us on Spotify or whichever platform you listen to us on. If you are listening on Spotify, please answer the poll under the episode description. We'd really like to hear from you. We'll see when we come back with another episode of Discovery Matters.

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