Hiring staff ‘extra challenging’ during pandemic, says Emergent VP

Emergent tries to fill bioprocessing talent gaps as it works to meet COVID-19 manufacturing demand.

When the pandemic hit earlier this year, Emergent Biosolutions found its services as a specialist in vaccine development and manufacturing sought after by a number of leading efforts against COVID-19.

The company’s contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) business unit found itself well placed, having already built up its capacity specifically to counter a pandemic alongside the US government.

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Alongside its newly found popularity as a CDMO for COVID-19 vaccines, the company has also planned ahead to expand its capacity to produce viral vectors and gene therapies.

With this amount of work going on, it is not surprising that the CDMO is actively recruiting to fill vacant bioprocessing positions across its facilities.

Difficult recruiting climate

The recruitment process is compounded by the two factors: the short-term difficulties thrown up by the pandemic and the long-standing issue facing the industry of sufficient talent coming through to support the rapidly growing biologics market.

Emergent’s Syed Husain, SVP and CDMO business unit head, spoke to Bioprocess Insider about the number of challenges the company now faces, beyond simply ensuring a safe working environment for existing and newly added employees.

Husain explained, “We are seeing that during this time, people are hesitant to relocate and even more so to an urban area. We have had to cast an even wider net across the country for talent, and while we have had luck, it is extra challenging during this time.”

More than this, there is increased competition across the industry to recruit talent and, specifically, those individuals that already possess experience, reducing the training required, Husain added.

All of this is compounded by the fact that any workforce that is built up will need to be prepared for employees needing to take time off due to illness.

Recruiting successfully during a pandemic

To bolsters its workforce despite these challenges, Emergent has invested into its internal talent acquisition team and has utilized digital channels to cast a wider net for future employees, such as with virtual recruiting events and social media advertising.

On the former recruitment tactic, Husain identified the company’s connection to the US government as beneficial, allowing Emergent to feature Moncef Slaoui, chief advisor to Operation Warp Speed, in an online recruitment event, which he noted helped drive up the number of participants and saw the company “converting quite a few” of these.

As an additional incentive, the company has also introduced a ‘special equity’ award, which sees employees receive a financial stake in the company.

Planning for the long-term

Whilst navigating the short-term problems thrown up by COVID-19, there is still the further question of ensuring that enough talent is coming through the pipeline in the long-term.

Husain expressed confidence that the industry is ensuring a pathway for the next generation of the workforce. He said, “The industry as a whole is doing a good job in raising the profile of STEM education and the diversity in opportunities and roles that such education offers.”

As for what more could be done, he concluded, “Employers need to provide more learning and training opportunities for candidates with potential to fill the needs, instead of focusing on having a certain number of years of exact experience, for example.”

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