What Can Employers Do to Attract and Retain Top Regulatory Talent?

Posted 08 August 2014 | By Zachary Brousseau 

What Can Employers Do to Attract and Retain Top Regulatory Talent?

A recent report on workplace trends has sparked renewed concern within pharmaceutical companies about employee turnover and retention. The study from Randstad found that 51% of biopharma employees are likely to look for a new job with another organization within the next six months. This compares to 38% of workers in all industries. The same study also found 66% of biopharma employees would be likely to accept a new job offer. Again, the rate was significantly higher than the 44% of all respondents who said they would be so inclined.

What About Regulatory?

While the Randstad report did not specifically address regulatory affairs jobs or regulatory professionals—or any other specific job functions within the bioparma sector for that matter—it raises important questions about recruitment and retention of regulatory talent. Are highly qualified regulatory professionals likely to leave their current employers for greener pastures someplace else? What is most important to these mission-critical employees and what can employers do to better attract and retain them?

Among the questions in its 2014 Scope of Practice and Compensation Survey of the Regulatory Profession, RAPS asked respondents—including regulatory professionals in the pharma, medical device and biotech sectors—to rank the reasons they first accepted a job with their current employers and the reasons they have stayed. RAPS also asked about their perceived value to their employers and analyzed survey data on whether respondents were hired into their current positions from within or came from an outside organization. Employers hiring regulatory professionals may want to take note of RAPS’ findings.

Survey Says

“The demand for experienced regulatory professionals along with the professionals’ strong focus on career advancement make it critical for employers to address recruitment and retention strategically and purposefully,” said RAPS Executive Director Sherry Keramidas, PhD, FASAE, CAE. “While regulatory professionals often find opportunities for career growth with their current employers, there also is a strong pull from opportunities with other employers.”

Scope of Practice Survey results show a majority of regulatory professionals at all job levels came to their current employers from other organizations. This is particularly true for professionals in lower- and higher-level regulatory jobs, with 67% of associates, 62% of specialists and 65% of vice presidents coming from elsewhere. Professionals in mid-level positions come from other organizations at a slightly lower rate, but those who do still represent a significant majority—56% of managers or project managers, and 58% of directors.

Hiring Regulatory Professionals

This means that employers can expect not only to have to compete for top regulatory free agents, but they also must compete with other organizations to keep their own highly qualified employees. The loss of institutional knowledge suffered when regulatory experts leave organizations is an important consideration, so companies must devote resources not only to hiring and recruitment but also to developing and retaining the regulatory talent they already have.

"The loss of institutional knowledge suffered when regulatory experts leave organizations is an important consideration, so companies must devote resources not only to hiring and recruitment but also to developing and retaining the regulatory talent they already have."

The Randstad study provides some indication of how troubling this problem is to employers. Among hiring managers in all industries, 52% said turnover rates had increased at their companies over the past year, but for those responsible for hiring in the pharmaceutical industry, the rate jumps to 64%.

What Attracts Regulatory Pros?

When asked in RAPS’ Scope of Practice Survey about the factors that attracted them to their current employers, regulatory professionals ranked work environment as most important, followed by salary and benefits, location, mission of the organization and opportunities for advancement.

Factors Influencing Acceptance

Work environment can mean different things to different people and most are likely to take into account aspects including attributes of the physical workspace and its immediate surroundings, working hours, coworkers and any additional perks or benefits. Personal and logistical considerations are often important. Kaska Kowanetz, PhD, senior regulatory affairs associate with Medivation Inc., said knowing some of the people she would be working with was a factor in her decision. “I...knew several people from the regulatory department at my current employer, who used to work at my previous company, and whose expertise I highly value.”

The opinions of current employees may also impact candidates’ judgment of whether they would be likely to enjoy working for the prospective employer. A “reputation among current employees as a good place to work” was cited by 92% of the Randstad study’s respondents as being important.

For Melissa Hayes, PhD, a regulatory affairs specialist with BD Diagnostic Systems who previously had been a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins, work-life balance was an important factor. “I needed to work in a field that I could dedicate 100% during working hours and be home with my young family evenings and weekends,” said Hayes. “Academic research is not as family friendly.”

Money Matters

Salary is clearly an important factor according to both RAPS’ Scope of Practice results and the Randstad study. Salary and benefits ranked as the number two factor for regulatory professionals, and was the top factor for those at the manager and specialist job levels. Professionals at all job levels ranked salary and benefits in the top three. Randstad found 94% of pharma workers value a company’s “good reputation in terms of offering fair compensation” when they are deciding whether to take a position with a new employer.

RAPS’ survey also shows the regulatory profession offers competitive pay, and salaries continue to rise. Base salaries for regulatory professionals grew 5.4% from 2012 to 2013, and have been on an upward trend since 1999. The average salary for a full-time, US-based regulatory professional was $126,163 in 2013.

Doing Good and Doing Good Work

A company’s mission also is viewed as very important by many. In RAPS’ survey, the mission of the organization was the fourth most important factor in weighted scoring, but also was ranked number one by more respondents than any other factor. For Hayes, BD’s mission resonated with her, and she says she “thought highly of a company whose mission was aligned with my own.”

Factors - Why Regulators Stay

The nature of work ranked as the top factor for regulatory professionals in deciding whether to stay with an employer. “I wanted the work I performed to have an impact on patient health. Performing basic research, those impacts were decades away, but in [regulatory affairs], my contribution was more tangible,” said Hayes. “I've only been here for a couple of months. However, I am learning that my first impressions are accurate.”

“I wanted the work I performed to have an impact on patient health."

Others cite specific aspects of their work they find exciting. “Every day is a new adventure that forces me to think and react,” said Vic Mencarelli, senior manager, regulatory affairs for The Hain Celestial Group Inc. Mukesh Kumar, PhD, RAC, is vice president of regulatory affairs and quality assurance for Amarex Clinical Research. Among the reasons he cites for remaining with Amarex is the “unique diversity of tasks.”

Opportunity Knocks and May Knock Again

Growth opportunities placed in the top five important factors both for taking new jobs and staying with current employers in the RAPS survey. Mencarelli said his employer “offered an opportunity to use some of my experience...while still making me stretch my knowledge to new areas.” He found that attractive when deciding to take a job there. For Kumar, the “opportunity to build a regulatory department from the ground up with complete freedom to design the group around client needs” was a key factor in his decision to take his job.

When asked about her reasons for staying with her company, Kowanetz responded: “The fact that I keep getting both on-the-job and external training, and that I see career growth opportunities for myself within the company.”

Management Support

Also mentioned as important by many of the regulatory professionals interviewed for this article was the support of their companies’ management teams. Based on the responses from the Scope of Practice Survey, most regulatory professionals seem to feel supported. More than half (52%) said they feel the regulatory professionals at their organizations are viewed as “very important/valuable” by senior management, and another 42% said they were seen as “somewhat important/valuable.” Only 5% said regulatory professionals were not valued where they work.

Kowanetz, Hayes, Mencarelli and Kumar all said they felt their expertise is valued by their employers. “I had, and still have, a very supportive senior management that looks at regulatory science as a core competency and an essential function for the overall well-being of the organization as a whole,” said Kumar of the support he calls “professionally and personally extremely important to me.”

Employers that fail to value or appreciate regulatory professionals and the jobs they do could be driving them away. “Expertise that is not valued is expertise that is ignored,” said Chris Posin, a regulatory consultant who formerly served as global director of postmarket surveillance and regulatory affairs for Bauch & Lomb Surgical. “This would be a frustrating situation.” Commenting on the effect of feeling underappreciated by an employer, Mencarelli said: “Without that motivation, then the only thing you work for is a paycheck. That might suit some people just fine. For me, it would make me ready to leave pretty quickly.”

So, are top regulatory professionals likely to leave their current employers for better jobs? The answer to that question is not straightforward, but the elements they tend to value in a job seem fairly clear. They want to do challenging, interesting and important work for fair pay in a friendly, supportive and appreciative environment where they have opportunities to grow and advance. The real question for employers is are you offering your regulatory workforce what they want and need?

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