Recruiting Trial Workers Amidst Growing Complexity


Economic challenges combined with increased responsibility for clinical trial workers has shifted talent recruitment.

Pam Verhoff

Pam Verhoff

The events of the pandemic have not slowed the pace of clinical trials—as of September 14, 2022, had 427,818 registered clinical studies, with 134,965 (or 32%) based solely in the U.S.

Along with the number of trials, the complexity of trials is also on the rise, with additional administrative and management tasks making it that much harder to recruit and retain clinical trial workers. As cited in a Metadata-sponsored Informa survey, 65% of those who work on clinical trials say the amount of data that needs to be captured and stored impacts their day-to-day job, 56% say the increase in required endpoints impacts their daily activities, and 73% say volume of work related to clinical trial oversight is increasing.

Clinical leaders need to understand this evolution and also understand that, at the same time, the talent market itself has changed. Expectations of employees and candidates are now different, the economy and inflation are shifting worker priorities, and fewer people in the clinical research arena are considering moves as a result.

To overcome these workforce recruiting challenges, it’s time for clinical leaders to get creative when it comes to mining talent, become more flexible when considering talent, and invest in professional opportunities to attract talent in the first place.

Three things clinical leaders can do to attract talent

The fact that administrative tasks are a much larger part of a clinical research worker’s role, and that experience is still a main focus, is a big part of today’s challenging hiring landscape. But that's not all of it.

Those looking to be hired have become more selective about where they are willing to be employed and which opportunities they want to pursue. To more successfully recruit and retain the best talent, the time has come for clinical leaders to think outside the hiring box.

1. Rethink the definition of “qualified”

As a clinical leader, take a good look at job descriptions and requirements, and acknowledge that candidates might not check all the boxes, but might deliver enough attributes to make the role a promising fit.

This entails taking transferable skills into consideration. Historically, it’s been difficult to even transition across the clinical spectrum, let alone enter the field anew. For example, those in hospital research have had challenges moving to clinical research due to the traditional two years of experience rule. Yet, research experience, regardless of how it is gained, is a valuable asset.

It’s time to recognize this and make concessions for skills that are closely related with job requirements. If you find that sponsors are inflexible in making these concessions, consider identifying roles that aren’t directly tied to a sponsor as an alternative.

Today’s candidates—both those within the industry and those new to it—have honed skills in organization, time management, financial management, data entry, data measurement, interpersonal relationships, project management, writing, analytics, informational systems management, and a host of other disciplines that may not always be a 1:1 role match, but which are vital nonetheless. Opening recruiting to encompass transferrable skills is an effective way to expand your talent pool and find quality candidates who would otherwise have been overlooked.

2. Support career progression

With clinical trial complexity on the rise for all trial roles, it’s worth considering how to support career progression for CPMs, CTMs, CRCs, CTAs and CRAs.

More than ever, opportunities exist for companies and clinical leaders to take advantage of young, eager talent interested in entering the clinical research field. So, it makes sense to help established trial workers advance into new roles and let those new to the field use administrative tasks as a way to learn deeply, fast.

Consider filling open roles with individuals who may have an interest in that role as a next career step vs. an individual who is completely qualified for the position. And, again, when it comes to staffing persistent open roles, think about dipping into other clinical talent pools where applicants could have meaningful transferable skills.

3. Help candidates meet the experience demand

One way to help overcome the experience issue within the industry is to provide candidates and hires with an alternative learning mechanism—one that helps them gain the type of experience you can’t necessarily teach in a class.

Apprenticeship programs are one such mechanism. An organization can offer one to two years of internal work rotation, exposing talent to multiple types of clinical roles while helping them determine which is ultimately the role they wish to pursue.

Leaving training and education solely up to colleges and universities is no longer seen as the best route by organizations, given many see this type of experience as insufficient. By taking on the responsibility to ensure candidates and workers are fully and properly trained, leaders and organizations win out in the long run. The investment pays off in CRA and other clinical roles being staffed by qualified talent that will more than likely remain in the role.

Of course, this is a long-term strategy. Endeavoring to train entry level talent, in particular, could be a two-year commitment. One that both leadership and employees must make. But given the industry workforce landscape, and the hiring trends on the horizon, there may no longer be an alternative.

Turn an obstacle into opportunity

What clinical trials look like, and involve, has changed over the last decade. Today’s clinical trial workers are required to juggle recordkeeping, reporting, logistics and protocol adherence at rising rates. This complexity can act as a deterrent to talent entering the field, and serve as a repellent for those already employed.

With required experience already acting as a hiring roadblock, the industry cannot afford many more. It’s up to clinical leaders to approach recruiting and retention with a new lens, weighing the true cost and impact that understaffing can have on a trial against the cost of hiring less seasoned, but available, talent. Talent that can pick up the slack and help alleviate the pressure brought on by today’s overabundance of administrative obligations.

Pam Verhoff, president and CEO, Advanced RPO

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