While there are signs that device firms are beginning to hire again, they’re also being more selective than they might have been in the past. Most want specialists who can walk into a job with expertise and contacts in hand already. Meanwhile, many companies remain skittish about the U.S. regulatory process and are choosing instead to add jobs first in Europe or elsewhere outside the United States.
“A lot of the people who are not currently employed are struggling to find gainful work especially if they fit that category of jack-of-all-trades,” said Roger Brooks, president of Leading Edge Medical Search in Boulder, Colorado. “The people who remain in demand are the specialists who have a skill set that dives deep in a particular area. So my advice to job seekers is have a skill set that’s deep in one area.”
There was little optimism in the medical device job market last year. While segments such as biomedical engineers continue to be very high demand, more than a quarter of medical devices executives expected to pursue a new job in 2010, according to a study at the beginning of last year by Legacy MedSearch. What’s more, about half of the respondents to that random survey were unemployed or “actively looking,” while more than half expected to be in a new job sometime that year. The study attributed that attitude to an environment that included less pay and fewer resource in which to do a job.
Now, as the job market opens up a bit in 2011, there will be intense competition requiring specific expertise. Brooks’ firm focuses on C-level executive search. St. Paul medical device sales recruiter Christopher Ward is seeing the same trend with his clients. If a cardiac rhythm management company is hiring a salesperson, they’re expecting someone who already has contacts with cardiologists and heart surgeons who will be using the product.
“Small companies now don’t have the time or the money to wait for someone to be brought up to speed, so they want to bring someone in with that specific background,” Ward said.
Joe Mullings, president and CEO of the Florida-based Mullings Group medical search firm, said he’s seen a “dramatic” uptick in recruiting for regulatory submissions and clinical positions. A lot of that activity, however, is happening in Europe. Venture capitalists aren’t confident in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s predictability, and so they’re seeking to ramp up and demonstrate their products in Europe instead.
“These are heavy patterns. They aren’t just aberrations,” Mullings said. “We’re seeing this with a number of companies. In fact, two or three of our clients in the Twin Cities as of late have gone on major European hiring sprees.”
The overall trend is definitely toward growth, said Mullings. He believes smaller, venture-backed and emerging-technology companies are starting to come out of a dormant period because acquisitions, while still down, are beginning to pick up again. When the recession hit, large companies “locked down,” focusing only on manufacturing, inventory and sales and abandoning most new R&D spending, Mullings said.
“So now that their R&D pipelines have been really, really decimated, they’ve got to go outside again in order to get their growth, especially the publicly traded companies,” Mullings said.
That’s given new incentive for smaller companies to ramp up, but the trend of investing in Europe first isn’t necessarily a good one for the U.S. industry, Brooks worries.
“My fear would be, as a guy who’s really passionate about the medical device industry, we’re going to probably see innovation happen in other parts of the world because that’s where they’re going to establish these therapies clinically,” Brooks said. “So pretty soon the R&D will start moving over there, and then pretty soon these foreign countries will be the dominant innovators of medical devices and we’ll be buying it from them.”