The med tech and biotech industries are booming in New England. In Massachusetts alone, the biopharma sector grew 13.2% last year, and the state is the largest recipient of NIH funding in the country (source).
This continued expansion is good for the New England economy, but it puts enormous pressure on companies looking to attract and hire talent in the sector. Life sciences companies must fill multiple positions as the industry grows, from senior management, engineers and technicians, to manufacturing production workers. For these companies, talent management strategies should focus as much on retention as hiring.
While many globally well-known companies are leveraging new hire strategies to attract local, regional and national talent, investing in your existing bench of employees by offering a unique blend of professional growth and career development can pay more dividends in the long run.
Developing talent and building a well-trained internal employee pipeline not only builds a wealth of knowledge that can be leveraged across projects and product lines, but creates loyalty that cannot be underestimated in fostering a highly motivated and self-directed internal team that can help train new hires.
Growth and Teamwork
KMC, the company I work for, started out as a small engineering and contract manufacturing firm for some of the leading medical device and life sciences companies around the world. Over its 40 years of existence, it has grown to become a tight, diverse and nimble team of new and seasoned professionals, some of whom have been with the company for 20 to 40 years. We make a point to provide growth opportunities for everyone, from exposure and hands-on learning for employees just beginning their careers, to mentoring opportunities for well-established employees.
In my role as executive director of engineering, I have seen market changes that affect our industry, work habits evolving and even a generational shift in what people expect from their employers. Through it all, I continue to learn about how to shape a company where people want not only come and participate, but also stay.
Here are four rules of the road that I have learned about attracting and retaining talent.
1. Be open to talent from outside the industry. Some skills are industry-specific, but there are also positives to bringing someone in from outside the industry. Brian McKeen, one of KMC’s lead mechanical engineers, joined the company almost two decades ago. He had previously worked in printing, telecommunications and even at a dotcom startup. The challenging and interesting work keeps him at KMC, as does his role working with customers to harness creativity and develop ideas that have resulted in 11 patents.
2. Provide opportunity for growth. Employees often leave a company when they feel they are at a dead end. Other jobs offer the allure of new adventures, new learning opportunities and new teams. I encourage employers to find ways to create new opportunities for their existing employees. While someone may be great at a specific job, they may not want to stay in that job forever – and it’s better if they get a new job within your company.
McKeen, for instance, has had several roles at KMC since he started here in 2005. He led the development of new products and initiatives – each one different and challenging, and each one requiring innovation and new thinking and manufacturing methods. He also benefitted from being a mentee, and now a mentor, and supports the growth opportunities available at the company. “There are all types of tasks, from beginner to expert, and we need them all,” he observed. “It is a great place to cut your teeth if you are willing to learn and there are tons of mentors with years of experience to learn from.”
3. Provide interesting, meaningful work. We make sure that our team understands that when they come to work, they’re helping people and potentially saving lives. During the COVID pandemic, there was a direct correlation between our work and the health of the country. We also make equipment that tests for everything from cancers to infectious diseases.
Diana Gonzalez Guarin, a new hire and rising star on our engineering team, was introduced to KMC via the co-op Program. Guarin says she was attracted to KMC’s cutting-edge technology and engineering, and the fact that it is used in the development of medical devices to help improve and save lives.
4. Cultivate a sense of community. A lot about creating community is soft and intangible – it comes with treating people with respect and kindness. It comes with creating work-life balance where people feel they can have a meaningful day at work, and leave that behind when they go home to focus on their own lives and families.
Every industry experiences change. Especially during times of rapid growth, adaptability is a must-have skill in the pursuit of building a great team. Investing more in existing employees to fill that talent pipeline is a good return on investment. It also increases employee loyalty, deepens business and product knowledge, lessens the impact of disruptions to productivity because there are fewer transitions, improves customer relations and fosters deeper connections among employees. All of this contributes to a positive company culture, which reflects positively on a company’s brand.
Scott Leon is executive director of engineering at KMC Systems Inc. in Merrimack, New Hampshire. The medical subsidiary of Elbit Systems of America, KMC Systems specializes in contract design and manufacturing services for some of the leading medical device and life sciences companies around the world.