As the dust has settled from the fallout of Brexit, the life sciences sector has been able to breathe a sigh of relief. Over the past 10 years, the industry has grown at a rapid pace and with the UK holding a secure spot in the global top 10 national pharmaceutical markets, its appeal as a global pharma hub shows no sign of abating. Fears following the referendum that the country would experience a drain of the brightest minds have been, for the most part, unfounded.
The pandemic and Brexit have of course greatly affected international talent flows, but these are not the only factors at play in the current recruitment market. In particular, a heightened demand for in-house legal talent in the UK and Swiss life sciences sector is seeing a variety of tensions at play amidst the ongoing battle for the best talent.
Life sciences on the continent
Lawyers have typically been drawn to roles at the European headquarters of well-established life science companies, with international appointments in this sector steadily increasing over the past few years. In particular, there has historically been a busy channel of talent between Switzerland and the UK. However, with the rise of flexible working, this channel has widened beyond these two hubs. With life science companies used to their lawyers and wider executive team working from home, presenteeism now has less weight in the industry, as firms have realised they can tap into a wider, international talent pool less confined to geographic restrictions.
For instance, flexible working has enabled Swiss companies to allow employees to work from different regions instead of requiring their workforces to relocate to the headquarters. In the same way, UK companies have shifted to variations of hybrid working models, as a means of attracting talent. They are responding to an increasing expectation of flexible working as a given; according to a recent survey, 66% of in-house lawyers based in the US and UK would prefer their employer to adopt a work-from-home policy.
When applied to the life sciences sector, however, this shift has presented a number of challenges. Where traditionally lawyers would commute on a weekly basis between where they live and the firm’s HQ, some firms are encountering more hurdles to relocation strategies.
In particular, there are greater restrictions on borders due to increasing sensitivities about the domicile of an employment contract. One simple way to reconcile this issue is for firms to hire a candidate through an affiliate, who can act as the contracting party. The new joiner does not create a permanent establishment in this way, as long as they do not classify as a ‘decision-maker’ under local tax law. This option is often used by large pharma companies, who can draw on extensive affiliate networks, but what about smaller companies?
Thinking outside the box
For companies without the privilege of affiliates at their disposal, there are various other creative options to consider to successfully hire an internationally diverse and qualified team.
Companies should consider the talent pool closer to home. The temptation to look internationally is not always the most effective option as companies should also pay attention to diverse candidates from their own communities. By and large, existing European markets will have an impressive pool of diverse and internationally sourced talent, and these should not be overlooked.
Working collaboratively to tackle red tape
Hiring in a complicated post-Brexit, post-recruitment landscape requires input from the whole team to develop strategic recruitment strategies. As HR teams continue to adopt global mobility policies to widen available talent pools, a collaborative approach across HR, legal, and tax departments is an effective strategy. Relocating a candidate will include tackling visa, tax, and employment issues, and having input from all relevant departments can prove effective at expediting the necessary paperwork.
With Brexit and now Covid spurring individuals to reassess their career and where it fits into their life, keeping your existing team engaged has never been so vital. Leveraging robust hybrid working models, maintaining a collaborative culture and promoting a successful work-life balance culture are all key to retaining the very best talent. The race for the best international talent is open to all.