How To Solve the Clinical Trial Management Talent Crisis

How To Solve the Clinical Trial Management Talent Crisis
Ben Brown


How To Solve the Clinical Trial Management Talent Crisis

Ben Brown, Clinical Regional Sales Manager at SRG delves behind the talent crisis in clinical trial management, and provides actionable recommendations for leaders in the clinical sector.

36% of drug developers say that staff shortages are limiting the progress of clinical trials today. 

While skills gaps across the wider pharmaceutical and biotech workforce are well documented, talent pipeline challenges in clinical trial management pose a significant and growing hurdle to business continuity. Clinical trial managers such as project and programme managers play a core role in the design and conduct of clinical trials, where they support the successful delivery of the trial and its surrounding processes.

Despite their essential nature to clinical trials, the road to becoming a clinical trial manager is becoming increasingly challenging in today’s financial climate, as supply chain and pandemic disruptions alongside lab relocation initiatives continue to hinder the continuity of research and stall career progression for aspiring clinical trial managers across the UK.

The UK Department for Health and Social Care’s “Future of UK Clinical Research Delivery”plan aims to deliver 80% of all open studies on the National Institute for Health Research CRN portfolio on time and on target by June 2023. To achieve this, a reliable and supported research workforce is cited as essential to futureproof the UK as the location of choice for world-leading clinical research. 

Read on to find out how your organisation can solve the clinical trial management talent crisis by creating a sustained, reliable and supported talent management plan.

In this article we’ll explore:

  • Why there is a shortage of clinical trial management staff
  • How CRO mergers and acquisitions are affecting the talent landscape
  • Opportunities to futureproof talent pipelines

Why is there a shortage of clinical trial management staff?

The typical career pathway for clinical trial managers has been majorly disrupted.

Generally speaking,  clinical trial manager starts their career as a clinical research associate, before progressing onto work as a project manager, and eventually working as a programme manager. This career pathway relies on project continuity to enable professionals to garner the experience and skills required to ascend the career chain.

It was this sense of continuity that unravelled over the course of the pandemic, as pipelines shifted away from non-vaccine related projects and many trials went on hold. This resulted in a mass sense of career disruption for clinical research staff – for those that did remain in the lab, the pace of projects accelerated at an unprecedented rate and many professionals experienced burnout, driving an increase in turnover. For those whose projects were on hold, staff found alternative work – resulting in an altogether under-supplied workforce. 

In 2021, there were 2026 active projects across the national portfolio – representing an increase of 52% compared to 2019. 

Today, the knock-on effects from these research pipeline changes have cumulated in a large number of clinical trials in resource and time-intensive set-up stages.

As organisations begin to pick up trials that were on pause, trial portfolios have become inflated, resulting in heightened pressure on research teams and a growing need for clinical trial managers which exceed the number of professionals available.

How CRO mergers and acquisitions are affecting the talent landscape

As so many clinical trial manager positions are currently vacant today, the knock-on effect on the workforce has resulted in remaining managers facing the orchestration of additional clinical trials, increasing workload and the chance of burnout.

One way businesses are supplementing resources and improving access to talent is through mergers and acquisitions.

Over 2021 M&A activity reached record breaking heightsbefore the number of deals declined in 2022.

This year, PwC predict ongoing mergers and acquisitions to persist, albeit at a reduced rate, by larger organisations looking to reshape portfolios, as well as to acquire biotech capabilities to fill pipelines. 

In a talent climate where staff are increasingly challenging to find, and hire, mergers and acquisitions provide a key alternative for larger businesses to power innovation, diversify their portfolios, and gain access to expert talent and expertise rather than have to train and upskill new hires.

However, the abrupt alteration in the number of mergers and acquisitions reflects the fast pace of change and ongoing uncertainties and instabilities in the wider clinical industry. For acquired CROS who previously specialised in a specific area, the transition to being part of a large corporation without specific niches can undermine motivation and incentivise employee turnover, widening existing management gaps.

On a more positive note, acquisitions can also provide an opportunity to supplement resources and share knowledge, helping to progress talent pipelines. To create a more sustainable workforce, the latter is key – embedding training opportunities and equipping specialists with the chance to lead clinical excellence in niche areas is essential.

Opportunities to futureproof talent pipelines

The current cycle of clinical management, where trial managers leave positions due to workload, is perpetuating instability and staff turnover, leading to an ongoing loss of expertise and additional resource implications for businesses in training new staff.

Breaking out of this will rely on a holistic approach and full consideration of the key factors driving burnout in the role.

90% of clinical trial managers are female, and many act as the primary carer for their children, making a permanent source of income particularly vital when choosing a role. However, 67% of clinical trial management roles operate under fixed-term contracts with the majority of these offering job security for less than 12 months.   

Clinical trial managers rank having time and funding to access training opportunities as the most important aspect of professional development, but finding an organisation willing to invest in professional development for short-term contract staff is challenging to attain.

Building a permanent workforce in the clinical trial management space offers organisations an opportunity to support the professional development of managers and offers more meaningful employee experiences to retain and empower staff.

Alongside strengthening the existing workforce, futureproofing talent pipelines will include attracting and equipping the clinical trial managers of the future with the resources and knowledge they need to succeed. Publicising the breadth of roles across clinical trial management outside of academic environments and promoting trial management careers to a wider breadth of individuals is imperative to ensure more professionals consider the profession.

At SRG, our specialist networks provide us with the ability to roll out early engagement projects with universities to help bridge talent gaps in clinical trials. Our expert consultants help facilitate onboarding training and enable organisations to unlock access to a wider scope of talent.

Our talent consultants are scientists themselves and understand the nature of the clinical trial industry and the importance of the right hire in clinical trial management. We proactively collaborate with our clients to ensure the right hire is made both for permanent and contract positions in the clinical trial management space.

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