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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Responsibly growing our talent pool

Talent remains the healthcare communications sector’s most important asset and its biggest challenge

Despite the devastating effect the pandemic, and perhaps Brexit, are inflicting on the economy as a whole, in healthcare communications there is still a growing need for new talent and a strong desire to maintain the talent we already have.

But, I would suggest our sector needs to show responsibility in growing our talent pool and consider how we can help, even if it’s just in
a small way, those whose career futures have been adversely affected by the last 12 months.

The school-leavers and graduates looking for some work experience or their first step onto the career ladder. Also, those whose jobs or sectors have been decimated and who have the skills, capabilities and desire, but need a new pathway.

We have the chance to use the immediate job opportunities we have available in a positive and responsible way and could also consider building for the future by creating new opportunities.

Fishing beyond the pond

The HCA is trying to catalyse the idea that, as a sector that needs new talent, especially at the mid-level, we need to expand our hunting ground. There is so much relevant talent already out there wanting, and now perhaps needing, to change direction – the events sector, the research sector, where very sadly some funding has dried up, communicators from other adversely affected sectors, to suggest just a few.

Now some may say ‘but they need a strong proven science background to work for us’. But do they? For some roles that may be true, for all roles it is probably helpful, but what we really need is individuals who have the ability to excel, uninhibited by the scientific aspects.

We will all have brilliant colleagues who were not trained as ‘scientists’ but who still excel in their roles. So why not have more of them? I have a biomedicinal chemistry degree, more of which I have forgotten than I can remember, and very little of which has helped me directly.

I have still had to learn about every disease area I have worked in throughout my career, from my first job carrying the bag to the most recent rare disease advisory boards I have facilitated.

Work experience, internships and apprenticeships

As a sector, we seem fixated on graduates. If we are looking at universities, then let’s at least look beyond the top universities where diversity is already diminished. Better still, let’s look beyond just universities. For some, the cost of going to university is the barrier to entry, not their ability.

Similarly, as a sector where having people skills is a significant advantage, it is not academic study where these are truly honed. Other professions realised years ago that bringing people into their sector and giving them direct training for the specific skills they require is an equally preferable option.

Accountancy is a good example. Is now the time for our sector to start making similar commitments? There are already some great examples of organisations in our sector that are running significant internship programmes. But there is still scope for much more, particularly in considering not just inviting graduates onto those programmes and in the initiation of apprenticeships.

It is rare that different political parties agree, but in principle they do when it comes to the importance of apprenticeships and initiatives that help to train people and get them on a career path, and there is evidence that individuals tend to be more loyal to their employers as a result.

When the HCA tried to start an apprenticeship programme tailored for healthcare communications, we initially failed to get enough support (although in our leadership role the HCA will continue driving this discussion). I think part of the problem is that the word ‘apprenticeship’ still has the perception of not being relevant for professional careers.

Perhaps a major rebrand is needed, because apprenticeships are as relevant for professional careers as any other. Our colleagues in marketing use apprenticeships very effectively as well as helping maintain and grow talent by providing structured professional career qualifications and development – something else the healthcare communications sector could benefit from.

As a sector that has fared much better than most this past year, and with so much uncertainty for those of our children who are currently finishing their education, surely the right and responsible thing for us to do is to support apprenticeships and work experience programmes?

Driving diversity

Many organisations talk about their desire to embrace diversity and create more diverse, equitable and inclusive businesses. In previous articles we have discussed the associated business benefits of achieving this goal.

Yet, if we do keep fishing for talent in pools that themselves are already far from representative, this is a much harder challenge. Expanding our pool, by incorporating these broader types of recruitment and training considerations and initiatives, will help us achieve those diversity goals we all want, and believe in.

Consider where your future talent could come from

As you look at your businesses and teams, please stop to consider not just the additional staff resource you may need now, but also your staffing needs in the future.

Similarly, please challenge yourselves to consider what kind of additional extra work experience opportunities you could offer. And please, start fishing outside your normal pool.

Mike Dixon is CEO of the Healthcare Communications Association and a communications consultant

25th March 2021

From: Marketing

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