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UK Scientific Recruitment Trends (2012 Report + Infographic)

Written by: on  December 5, 2012

With the UK government investing about £5.5 billion a year in the science sector and pledging to increase the amount, science jobs are on the rise. Adding momentum to the argument that the science sector is the strongest way to grow the GDP and leave the recession behind, Physicist Brian Cox challenged the UK government to help make Britain the ‘best place in the world to do science’.

Over the last 6 months, working with Cranleigh Scientific, we interviewed 20 HR managers in UK science companies (incl. Abbott Diagnostics, Johnson Matthey, Siemens, Givaudan, SC Johnson and Synergy Health) to discover how scientific companies are finding and hiring the finest talent in this growing sector – and what 2013 holds for the industry.


The Top Two Recruitment Findings:



[ONE] Although there is great interest in social media as a method of recruitment, “filter failure” has kept the medium on standby.

Social media plays a role in background checks and the creation of passive candidate networks, but as a direct recruitment tool it delivers too much noise and a poor ratio of quality job candidates. Repeatedly, HR managers expressed the need for a way to filter the crowd of online profiles. Too much time is spent trying to shortlist the top candidates. This is something that technology may help in the future, but in its adolescent stage, social media often costs too much time and frustration as a primary recruitment tool.

Traditional advertising is considered the least valuable recruitment method while job boards are considered slightly more valuable  – yet the problem of filter failure strikes again. Digging deeper we find that while online profiles do an ok job of qualifying a candidate’s experience, there is little insight into cultural fit, which in turn influences retention rates and general productivity.


[TWO] All the companies interviewed are using outside recruiters, on average 1-3 agencies – but wish for partnerships instead of client & vendor type relationships.

The main ROI that recruitment agencies bring is the shortlisting of qualified candidates, saving time for the in-house HR team. Evolving, companies now desire long-term relationships with fewer recruitment agencies that not only provide qualified candidates but understand company culture nuance.


Scientific Recruitment in 2013:

Following the report (infographic and details at the bottom) we interviewed Cranleigh Scientific to explore growing trends for scientific recruitment in 2013:


Introducing Alex Salmon, Recruitment Director at Cranleigh Scientific. Clients include: Pfizer, Abbott, ThermoFisher, Procter & Gamble, Genzyme, Biocompatibles, Hexcel, Sara Lee, Firmenich, Pira International, TMO Renewables, Vertellus and The Carbon Trust.

Enter Alex:

Q. How strong is the candidate market in the science sector currently?

Alex: Confidence has come back into the market in 2012, so candidates are coming out of their hiding. Now there is an abundance of candidates available compared to the past few years because employees were more scared of job safety – confidence renewed, many are looking for alternatives to their current jobs. I’d say on average 25% of employees are passive candidates – not necessarily actively looking for a job but open to hearing about options.


Q. What do you think about social media, will it become the recruitment method of choice?

Alex: About 75% of the time we use LinkedIn as the initial touch for head hunting to connect with passive candidates: only 25% are through phone. Social media is a great initial way to connect, but it’s got to lead offline, there is no way to replace face to face communication. It’s all about meeting the candidiate in person and vetting if they are a good fit.

The pain I keep hearing from in-house HR is dealing with the mountains of CVs. Last year, many clients tried cutting out outside recruiters but found the increased time requirement to be an ordeal – and came back for assistance. Even for junior roles – we vet and reference them in-house. It’s a case of having that resource of time to compile a shortlist of real candidates. Usually clients want a top 3 shortlist of candidates – any more than three solid choices and it wastes time.


 Q. Where are relationships between recruitment agencies and in-house HR teams going?

Alex: HR teams may downsize opting into preferred supplier lists (PSLs), which are growing in popularity. Bigger companies are carefully partnering up with one to three agencies, instead of using ten. This saves time for the in-house HR team and provides better service from the recruiter because it’s much more competitive with 10 agencies and the ability to have quality relationships is low.

At Cranleigh Scientific we are proud of being on quite a few PSLs. The future success of small to medium sized recruitment businesses will depend on the quality of the client relationship, and how much is invested into it. This is ultimately how Cranleigh Scientific has been able to thrive during a difficult economy.


Q. Any dangers of PSLs for scientific companies?

Alex: Recruitment agencies can get complacent when reviewed on an annual basis and the service level can slip due to the comfort of being in an PSL.

To avoid this and court great long-term service I recommend:

  • Recruitment agency side – There should be an account manager put in place to keep the service levels high.
  • Company side – An account manager interacting with the agency AM. These two contact points create a strong partnership.
  • Also, if possible, it’s best to have just one AM on each side, for example we have one account manager for Afton Chemical, it keeps it streamlined.


Q. Any thoughts for 2013?

Alex: In this economy, what makes us competitive and can drag us out of this recession is the cleantech energy sector – the key industry we predict will grow, taking us out of this recession. This is heavily supported by universities such as Oxford and Cambridge attracting the best international science talent.

The great news for the science industry is the level of funding allocated by the government in 2012. Over £1 billion will be committed through the UK Research Investment Partnership, which will have a huge effect on nurturing groundbreaking technologies from incubation through to commercialisation. We are working with cleantech businesses that have benefited from this investment and require the brightest minds to drive their businesses forward. The future looks very bright for technology innovation in the UK.




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