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Caught in a Classic Catch 22* for Talent

by Matthew Assael, CSP, Executive Director
LLoyd Life Sciences

I’m a native Long Islander. A child of the 60’s who grew up here when Engineering and Defense dominated the local workforce landscape. The lure of jobs in these areas drew people from top universities and helped to define the economics and culture of Long Island.

Today, as a professional Executive Search Consultant with more than 25 years in the industry, I specialize in recruitment for the Life Sciences community. Many of the candidate placements I make are largely off-Island in states like New Jersey, Massachusetts and California which have an established presence in the marketplace and a well cultivated talent pipeline. About a decade ago, there was a big push to make our region an epicenter for biosciences, pharma and nutraceutical opportunities. It was a movement that held tremendous promise and some key players in development and manufacturing in the biosciencesphere did start to cluster here. But unfortunately, the mantra, “If You Build It, They Will Come” hasn’t turned out exactly as predicted in the movie, Field of Dreams. Today the biggest challenge to the advancement and growth of Long Island’s bioscience cluster is the lack of immediately accessible talent to fuel this advancing sector. I know this because I experience it on a daily basis and it is a struggle that must be addressed, or we will find we have lost the battle to groom a new industry for our economic and occupational future.

To make this professional sector an anchor on Long Island, we need a perfect storm to come together in terms of business leadership, employers, government and academia. These parties must find a way to feed, lead and communicate – to resolve our hiring challenges and address the issues with perhaps, a more scientific mindset.

To keep Long Island’s Pharmaceutical companies from abandoning the region’s goals, it is my contention that four things must happen for us to see any positive change.
1. Long Island Pharma and Nutraceutical companies must be willing to RELOCATE qualified scientists from other states and offer relocation packages and competitive salaries that meet our area’s high cost of living standards.
2. Local bioscience companies must be willing to TRAIN scientists who may not have as much experience or the exact scientific expertise required for a particular position.
3. Local universities must BUILD their academic science programs and make them more applied to the Pharmaceutical industry’s needs in our marketplace. We need the ability to grow our own talent and then make it attractive enough to retain them.
4. Long Island leadership must RECRUIT additional Pharma companies to the area so that the designation of our region as a Pharmaceutical Hub has true substance behind the terminology. Scientists must want to come here to live and work – for professional challenge and satisfaction, as well as quality of life.

Nothing would please me more than to make the heart of my recruitment activity be centered on Long Island. Currently, approximately 20% of the positions I work on are here, with 80% being spread out over NJ, CA, MA and other states.

Searches here are especially challenging because the candidate community is relatively small and the talent has already worked at or interviewed with the employers in the marketplace. Bringing in fresh talent is difficult because our local employers are often unwilling to provide competitive relocation packages and compensation to offset the higher cost of living and allow candidates to compare apples to apples when it comes to job offers. Our educational institutions are turning out an increased number of chemistry and biochemistry graduates, but many do post-graduate work in other regions to broaden their experience and PhD students get lured away by the Big Pharma companies elsewhere, where their paychecks will stretch a lot farther and get them better value.

A few years back when OSI was based here on Long Island, prior to their acquisition by Astellas, they were one of the few firms in this industry that offered generous relocation packages and competitive compensation. In fact, their ability to attract qualified candidates enabled them to build a team of world class talent thereby bolstering their reputation, visibility and success.

Every few years I read an article about the growing pains faced by Long Island employers in the Life Sciences community, but I’ve yet to see any tangible changes regarding relocation packages, compensation improvements or practices for grooming the available graduating talent. The conundrum is real. What is it going to take to make employers, education and government truly band together to create a solution for an industry that could dramatically impact and stabilize Long Island’s economy and future?

Note: *Catch 22 is defined as a situation in which a desired outcome or solution is impossible to attain because of a set of inherently illogical rules or conditions.

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