Report: Animal health industry experiencing highly competitive labor market

Updated February 7, 2023

More than half the U.S. animal health industry saw a higher employee turnover rate in 2022, according to a new report that also shows a softening in candidate acceptance rates over the same period.

The findings were outlined in the presentation "2023 Animal Health Industry Overview" by Brakke Consulting on Jan. 16 at the Veterinary Meeting and Expo in Orlando, Florida. The report provides additional evidence that, whether it's a pharmaceutical company or a veterinary practice, all sectors of the industry are experiencing tightness in the labor market.

“I’m going to suggest that there's a bit of a hiring problem in the animal health industry,” said Jeff Santosuosso, who oversees recruitment activities for Brakke. The consulting firm works exclusively with animal health and nutrition companies as well as veterinary practices.

Hands of business owner holding hiring sign

Santosuosso was one of several Brakke staffers to speak during a two-hour presentation. The new report is based on surveys conducted over the spring and summer of 2022 and supplemented with information from the industry and human resource services.

Workforce issues

Among the workforce-related issues identified in the Brakke report are the following:

  • Seventy percent of respondents reported a higher turnover rate in 2022.
  • Thirty percent of respondents reported a drop in the acceptance rate for job candidates.
  • Sixty percent of respondents failed to reach their hiring goals.
  • Fifty-nine percent of respondents said it took longer to fill a job opening since the pandemic.

“This is a triple threat of difficulty and frustration here,” Santosuosso said. “We’ve got vacancies in the office, it’s taking longer to fill those vacancies, and we've got a lower acceptance rate for our hiring office.”

The leading cause for these challenges, according to Santosuosso, is that the animal health labor market has become fiercely competitive in recent years, including with multibillion-dollar companies, such as Chewy and Amazon, entering the fray.

The result is a shift in the power dynamic, from employer and hiring company to employee and job candidate, he said. “This is really critical, particularly as related to the changing demographics of talent in our marketplace,” adding more and more millennials and members of Generation Z, Santosuosso said.

The generally accepted birth years for millennials are from 1981 to 1996, meaning they will turn ages 27 to 42 this year, and Generation Z is the next younger generation.

Company culture and company brand are especially important to people in this age group, Santosuosso said. And while competitive salary and benefits are also important to them, so is the option of working remotely.

“Compensation, particularly for the younger people in our industry, extends far beyond dollars and cents, so we want to make sure we are able to focus on that,” he said.

Santosuosso suggested using videos to show job candidates what the hiring business is like and what the job entails. Such promotional videos are fairly common within the health care and service industries, he added.

“Video is better than text,” Santosuosso said. “It's a look into the business: who we are, what we are, and what the working environment is like. That’s important to younger candidates.”

Boosting retention rates

In a follow-up interview with AVMA News, Santosuosso said employee retention levels across the animal health industry are at all-time lows.

“In two years, half of the workforce will be populated by millennials, and they measure compensation far beyond salary and benefits to their ‘why,’ their purpose,” he explained.

Santosuosso suggested businesses take the following steps to boost employee retention:

  • Measure what matters to each employee to uncover their current and future career motivators.
  • Apply the aspirations and goals of each team member gathered during the interview process.
  • Enable employees to pursue those aspirations, that is, special projects, internal or external training, and so on.
  • Make it a long-term project to follow the team member throughout their time with the business to revisit, refine, and update their career goals.
  • Set clear expectations so as not to undermine the promising groundwork previously established.