CROs are hiring exponentially more people than pharmaceutical companies or medical device makers, according to the brand-new Global Life Science Hiring Index produced by boutique talent management firm ZRG Partners. For the second quarter of 2010, the index showed that the category of outsourcing and services (mostly CROs) did a whopping 500% more hiring than pharma companies and 250% more than medical device and supply firms.

“That surprised us,” said Larry Hartman, managing partner of ZRG. “We thought maybe outsourcing would be two times as active as pharma—but not five.”

At the same time, though, the outsourcing and services sector was the smallest category the index scrutinized, constituting about 2,000 jobs or just 17% of job opportunities. Medical device and supply was the most active sector in terms of pure numbers of jobs, with more than 46% of job opportunities. Pharma was second, with 37%.

Hartmann added that the index unearthed some interesting facts about the nature of the jobs available in outsourcing versus the jobs available in pharma. “If you look at pharmaceutical, hiring is a lot more focused on managing the bottom line and being efficient,” he said. “Hiring is in general accounting, IT. That’s the biggest bucket—not sales and marketing. This indicates a holding pattern. Meanwhile, CROs are hiring talent, bringing on people in clinical and research and development, indicating growth mode.”

The numbers also indicate something of a tug-of-war over employees, as 63% of the positions in regulatory, quality and clinical came from the outsourcing and service sector, said Hartmann. Regulatory, quality and clinical roles were the most in-demand hiring roles in the index, comprising 27.2% of all jobs available.

The recent uptick in private equity investing and IPOs in the life sciences sector provides the perfect starting place for a new industry-specific hiring index like this, said Hartmann. “It’s been so slow lately that it’s a great time to start measuring hiring. We’ll soon see more hiring as more concepts get funded, and we can measure that.”

Hartmann said ZRG decided to undertake a quarterly hiring index after years of clients asking about hiring trends and ZRG being unable to share any information that wasn’t purely anecdotal. “They’d say, ‘What do you find is happening in this market or that one? What should I expect if I open up in this market?’ We looked around and saw there wasn’t any information that quantified this on a global basis, so we decided to do it.”

Hartmann explained that ZRG’s team of three hiring-index researchers were able to find about 12,000 jobs posted by the top 30 life sciences companies broken down into the categories of outsourcing, pharma and devices. Most jobs were found on the companies’ job boards, but others were picked up on external job boards such as, he said.

ZRG plans to release the index quarterly, and an expansion is already underway. By early next year, Hartmann says he hopes to add a private equity component to the index. “We’ll look at early investment for each quarter, and figure out what that will mean in terms of creation of new jobs,” he said, adding that he hopes to find large venture firms to partner with ZRG on this effort.

—Suz Redfearn

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