Why Life Sciences Can’t Afford to Forget About Light-Industrial Workers

KellyOCG’s Sam Smith explains why this vital and increasingly competitive talent pool should be a key priority for global Life Sciences organisations.

August 28, 2019

By Sam Smith, Vice President, Global Practice Lead, Life Sciences & Healthcare, KellyOCG

When you think about Life Sciences talent what do you see? Is it men and women in white coats? Perhaps hurrying around labs filled with complex equipment as they research a debilitating disease or develop new medical technology? It’s a common reaction to this question, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. These people, of course, exist and they are a key part of the Life Sciences ecosystem. But by only seeing this highly specialised layer of STEM talent, we miss out on the big picture. And that’s a picture which includes thousands of blue-collar and light-industrial workers who have a crucial role in making Life Sciences work.

Blue-collar and light industrial workers in Life Sciences are the people who are ensuring that life-saving medicine gets to where it needs to go or who are putting together the prosthetics that enable people to live independent lives after a traumatic accident. They have a range of highly transferable, highly sought-after skills and organisations who see them as disposable will lose out. High attrition and low retention rates within this talent pool are incredibly common and rapid turnover of staff can cost organisations millions of dollars.

A Centre for American Progress study found the cost of replacing employees in low paying, high turnover jobs is around 16% of their total salary. For a worker in a Life Sciences manufacturing plant earning $30,000, this means a cost to the company of $4,800 for every worker lost – a number that can soon stack up as both contingent and permanent employee churn increases in the light-industrial space.

So, how can we change this picture and start to place a greater value on this critical community of Life Sciences workers?

For me, engagement is the key factor here. We cannot treat this crucial Life Sciences workforce as disposable. We have to engage them, reward them, and provide them with a career path that recognises the value in the work they do. A 50¢ raise in hourly rate at the factory down the street should not see a mass exodus of staff in your plant, but right now that’s a real risk. Competition is incredibly fierce. Organisations have to offer tangible benefits to become an employer of choice. It’s a change in mindset that can have a huge impact on your bottom line.

Another way to improve retention rates in this talent pool is to consider innovative ways to engage workers. We addressed low light-industrial retention rates within one of our Life Sciences clients in the US by outsourcing a portion of their contingent workforce that they were unable to transform into full-time employees. By offering these workers direct employment through Kelly (with benefits including healthcare and education) we were able to reduce turnover rates from 71% to less than 10% in a single location. People in this community now actively want to be part of this workforce.    

Life Sciences is made up of layers of talent, all of which bring immense value, both to individual organisations and the sector as a whole. For Life Sciences organisations to remain competitive, they must consider every layer carefully. In the light-industrial pool, this means first seeing this often-overlooked workforce and then being brave and innovative enough to engage them in meaningful ways.


To discuss this topic further with the author or to learn more about our life sciences and healthcare expertise, contact us today.

View More Articles