Rules of Engagement: how to come out on top in the tussle for talent

It’s no big secret. You have a fight on your hands.

The ongoing shortage of homegrown STEM students has been further exacerbated by the implications of Brexit. Add to that the fact Scottish working-age migration is predicted to fall by a total of 73% through to 2022, significantly shrinking the country’s talent pool, and the picture can start to look very bleak.

With people and talent representing a key driver for business growth, failure to overcome this challenge could mean the difference between your business becoming a Life Sciences powerhouse or a minnow, overshadowed by a bigger, bolder global competitor (with much deeper pockets).

So what can you do about it? What steps can you take to stand a fighting chance in the tussle for talent?

1. Start with Who

By 2020 half of the workforce will be classified as contingent workers, meaning a significant part of your business could be designed, managed and built by virtual, remote, part-time or self-employed people. To counter this, you need to consider your strategic workforce planning and resourcing model:

Who do you need to scale your business? 

Where are they? 

What type of employee are they? 

Are you able to meet their expectations? 

Can you articulate a culture and purpose that inspires then?

Devote the same care and attention as you put into your customer research into your future employees – understand the recruitment market for your industry, look at what competitors are doing well (and not so well), and identify what will attract your future talent.

2. The C Word

Culture. Once you’ve taken time to understand who you want to attract into your business, then it’s time to reflect on your why. What is the core purpose of your business? Why did you create it? What do you want it to be known for in the market? What will be your legacy?

When you’re competing in a crowded (and expensive) employment market (which, if you’re a life sciences business operating in Scotland, then you almost certainly are), then you need to think outside of the box. You can’t always compete on salary, so there needs to be something else to pull highly sought-after talent into your business.

A strong, well-defined culture can be the difference between a thriving recruitment pipeline and a relentless scrap to secure top talent. The global start-up phenomenon which, in the past decade, has seen many “corporate lifers” jump ship and sign up for higher risk, lower pay employment is testament to the power of culture in attracting talent.

This is where those of you in the life sciences sector are at an advantage – your purpose is integral to what you do every day. Whether that’s researching new healthcare treatments to cure us, innovating the food supply chain to provide global sustenance, or developing new technology to tackle climate change. Your brand narrative is already written, it’s in your DNA, so there’s a huge opportunity to leverage your purpose through marketing and word of mouth to attract talented individuals and encourage them to choose you, choose your mission, and be a part of something important.

3. Deliver. Deliver. Deliver.

When you know who you want to attract and you’re clear on why you are passionate about it (and therefore why they will be too), then it’s time to deliver.

One of the most effective ways to attract top talent into your business is through your existing employees. A management style based on mutual trust, transparency and a shared purpose can encourage open-sharing culture, promote innovation and create a sense of community. When potential recruits are on the outside looking in on, and hearing, what your current employees have to say (in person or online), they want to be part of that community, they want to belong.

The physical environment you create for your business can also play a key role here. In the same way your home reflects you and your family, your premises should be a reflection of your purpose and what you stand for as a company. It is your marketing real estate, your show home, and can be a powerful magnet (or detractor!) for future recruits so should be given focused attention and align to “who” you’re trying to attract and the culture you embody.

Finally, think about how you incentivise your employees. Traditional methods of performance management and incentivisation are not fit-for-future. In order to attract and retain top performers, you need to think beyond the traditional financial metrics. 

A purpose-based performance scorecard incorporating metrics built around the growth of your business, such as innovation, entrepreneurship, collaboration and experimentation, will likely resonate with employees on a deeper, more meaningful level, encourage behaviours necessary to help you scale, and are less easily replicated (or outbid!) by competitors.

It’s not an easy fight, nor is there a quick “one-size-fits-all” fix. However, you have a lot going for you and you are part of a thriving sector in an ambitious country. 

Focusing on what you can control and leveraging the tools you have at your disposal can produce some early wins. Much like Silicon Valley, including modern day recruitment giants like Facebook and Google, top talent will attract top talent so scoring some early wins can become a self-fulfilling prophecy – providing you deliver the goods when the talent comes inside.

Nicola Pidgeon, Assistant Director at EY Scotland

To find out more about the EY 7 Drivers of Growth, visit:


Hear more about the EY 7 Drivers of Growth at The Scotsman’s annual Life Sciences conference on the 26th of November, book your place here: