Industry viewpoint: Applied Biological Materials

Solving the skills shortage from within

Story originally published in BioTalent Canada’s Close-up on the bio-economy: Demand and supply outlook

What’s the best way to bring new employees up to speed on a vast product portfolio or build a technically knowledgeable team of sales reps in a business undergoing double-digit growth? For Applied Biological Materials of Richmond, BC, the answers come from within. The company has tapped its senior managers to mentor new hires and enlisted its own scientists to head up customer-facing functions.

Q: Tell us about your business: what’s the focus of your work?

LILY LI, FINANCE AND HUMAN RESOURCES ASSISTANT: We produce technologies for the life sciences research and biotechnology industries. We supply materials needed in molecular biology, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), next-generation gene sequencing, gene expression vectors and viruses, CRISPR, contract research and more. Our aim is to be a one-stop shop for research labs around the world, helping them reduce their operating costs without jeopardizing quality. We’ve been recognized as one of the top-25 fastest-growing companies in British Columbia. We’ve seen a 30% average annual growth rate since we incorporated in 2004.

Q: What positions do you most need to fill to maintain that growth?

LL: We need more people in the lab doing the technical work because our portfolio is so extensive. We also need people with skills that suit our proprietary production processes, and who can make sure our products meet our quality controls. We get a lot of candidates on the research side, but it’s been difficult finding people with skills on the production side. We also need people with sales and marketing skills — but who understand life sciences and the value of our products.

Q: What’s been your approach to finding the kinds of candidates you need?

LL: Our current strategy is to shift some of our more extroverted and customer-oriented product experts into sales and marketing roles. On the technical side, we’ve been pairing new hires with senior staff who can mentor them to develop the skills we expect once they’ve finished their probationary period. We’re finding hands-on learning is more effective than having new hires just read product documentation.

Q: In addition to technical expertise, are there interpersonal or soft skills you look for?

LL: The ability to collaborate and communicate across departments is critical. We look for evidence of those skills in the first recruitment cycle for a new position. Time management and attention to detail are also key. Customers expect their orders to be filled quickly and staff work on multiple orders at the same time.

Q: How important is solving the talent challenge your ongoing success?

LL: Very. Not having the right people can cause potential production delays or impact our ability to get production quality up to the right level, which would prevent our customers from carrying out their own life-changing research.

Q: Are there other challenges that keep you up at night?

LL: We interview a lot of candidates but even after we hire people, we may not be sure they’re going to work out in our organization. Beyond just finding people with skills and the right credentials, it’s also a real challenge to find people who will fit our culture, which is fast-paced and emphasizes innovation.

Company profile: Applied Biological Materials

Location: Richmond, BC
Employees: 130
Bio-economy sub-sectors: Bio-health

Applied Biological Materials among one of the largest biotech companies in British Columbia, with a catalogue of more than 5 million products and services distributed by 90-plus partners worldwide. Its long-term international partnerships with prestigious universities and R&D organizations enable the company to drive discoveries on a global scale.