Blog: Lessons Learned and Validation at the Workforce Ireland Conference

The recent ‘Workforce Ireland Conference‘ looked at the challenges facing tech and life science companies in attracting and retaining staff.  Acorn Regulatory’s Brian Cleary was a speaker at the event, talking about our approach to work and in this blog he looks back at the conference and the working culture here at Acorn Regulatory

In many ways it is hard to believe that a region as devastated by job losses as the south east of Ireland was in the recession of 2009 to 2015 has just hosted a conference where the issue of difficulty in retaining staff was discussed.  However, that is exactly what happened earlier this week at the Workforce Ireland event in Mt. Juliet in Co. Kilkenny.  The event was co-hosted by the four Skillnet networks in the region (Carlow Kilkenny Skillnet, Co. Tipperary Skillnet, Waterford Chamber Skillnet and Wexford Chamber Skillnet) in association with the national Skillnets organisation. I was asked to speak about the growth in staff numbers that we at Acorn Regulatory have experienced and to outline some of the initiatives that we have introduced in an effort to attract and retain the great people that work with us.

During the course of the morning it was heartening to hear other speakers highlight initiatives that we have already implemented as areas for consideration for companies seeking to attract top talent.  Our company, in recent years, has implemented a remote and flexible working policy.  Even now, a couple of years after it was first introduced, prospective employees that we talk to still find it hard to believe that we offer such a degree of flexibility.  Regulatory affairs is closely linked with manufacturing and many candidates regard the function as something that must reside in the same building as the manufacturing function.  However, developments in tech and a shift in mindset means that RA  and PV professionals are no longer ‘tied’ to the manufacturing site.  While most companies have yet to embrace the opportunities that such a change presents, we have been able to leverage the developments to attract exceptional colleagues.

Many companies, particularly in the small to medium sized enterprise space, suffer from what I call ‘the leaky bucket business syndrome’.  In essence, these companies must continually pour fresh recruits into the aforementioned leaky bucket while experienced staff leave to join competitors, larger companies or opt out of the workforce altogether.  The nub of the leaky bucket issue is this:  experienced candidates leave with institutional knowledge, an understanding of their companies systems and relationships that new recruits will take time to develop.  In doing so, the company that is maintaining the level within the bucket is only maintaining quantity and not quality.

Of all of the reasons for leaving the one that we have worked hardest to address is that of employees leaving to pause/end their careers. It is a common issue across all sectors, predominantly for female employees.  As we have mentioned before in a previous blog, the burden of family considerations fall disproportionately on females and, as such, there is a greater number of females opting out of the workforce than men.  This problem was illustrated at the conference by CEO of Skillnets Ireland Paul Healy when he pointed out that, in Ireland, female participation in the workforce declines from the age of 35 and does not pick up at all.  European figures differ greatly and, in the main, our European colleagues see a consistent level of participation right through to retirement ages.

Workforce IrelandWe, at Acorn Regulatory,  have developed a way of working that has proved attractive to individuals seeking to mix family life, academic pursuits or other career strands with a career in regulatory affairs.  Now, as our company continues to grow, every member of staff has a unique arrangement that enables them to address their other considerations.  Further to that, almost 50% of our staff now work remotely during some or part of the working week.  Again, our ability to offer that level of flexibility of location and timing has given us, as a company, much greater access to talented and experienced people.

The initiatives that we have implemented, simple as they are, are still only ‘things to think about’ for many companies as they struggle to retain people.  On the day, I was particularly interested to hear how emerging tech companies were managing to attract and retain staff in the face of competition from the tech giants in Dublin, Cork and elsewhere.  It is, after all, a battle that our industry has seen with the array of global device and pharma companies based in Ireland for decades.  The tech companies, like us, win on many levels.  They win on ‘the challenge of the new’.  Our staff, as employees of a company that works with clients all over the world and on a vast array of products are consistently learning and developing new skills.  They are continually being challenged to identify strategies for clients with different products and operating in different markets.  It is that variety and thrill that encouraged many of our colleagues to pursue a scientific career when they left school and it keeps them energised today.

As the title suggests, there were lessons learned – that we have a significant job to do in retaining female participation in the workforce in Ireland.  And there was validation – that our working structure is effective at attracting excellent people seeking new challenges.

If you would like to have a chat about how you might progress your pharmacovigilance or regulatory affairs career with Acorn Regulatory, then please do get in touch with me by completing your details below.


About the Author
Brian Cleary
Chief Marketing Officer
Brian is Chief Marketing Officer at Acorn Regulatory. He works with our growing team to highlight some of the most important issues in regulatory affairs and pharmacovigilance. Brian also manages HR and recruitment issues for the company. You can read other articles by Brian by clicking the link below.
Other Articles by Brian Cleary