For many, it’s smooth sailing in the medtech industry. Salaries are rising, job satisfaction and security are high, and demand for experienced professionals continues to exceed supply.
Yet certain pockets of the industry seem poised to rocket higher than others. What can employees do to ensure they continue to thrive in this strong but evolving marketplace?
No Longer Just a Trend
Over the past few years, the medtech job market has smiled on employees. Experienced candidates have been able to secure moderate salary increases and higher bonuses.
That dynamic has only strengthened in 2016, which Paula Rutledge, president of Orlando-based medtech recruiting firm Legacy Med-Search, said has been the strongest year for medtech hiring since before the Great Recession.
“I think that trend is continuing. I may be ready to not call it a trend. I think it’s just the new way of going forward,” said Brian Cole, managing partner at Dallas-based MedTech Executive Search.
It remains tough for companies to land quality candidates, said Amy Collins, a medical device recruiter at Smith Search Group, in Minnesota. Professionals laid off after large companies merge tend to be “snapped up quickly,” Collins said. “If you have device experience and a solid track record, you get hired quickly,” she added.
Paying Top Dollar
All that has meant strong salaries for medtech employees. Respondents to MD+DI’s 2016 Medtech Salary Survey reported a median salary of $118,750. That’s an $11,750 increase over the median salary reported in the 2015 salary survey and an $8750 increase over the median salary from the 2014, although survey samples were not the same.
Those numbers square with what industry recruiters have observed. Cole said he’s observing an average 7–8% bump in salary when employees leave their current position for a new opportunity. “Salaries have increased, without a doubt,” he said.
Unfortunately, not all companies have kept pace.
“We’ve had more declined offers this year than we ever have before . . . based on salary,” Rutledge said. Some companies are drawing “a line in the sand,” she noted, cautioning, “that doesn’t play, particularly as millennials are stepping up to take leadership roles.”
For Higher Pay, Think High Tech
Some of the job growth in medtech is coming from a particular corner of the industry. Rutledge has noticed a significant amount of hiring from what could be called the “high-tech” categories of the industry: virtual reality, sensing, and robotics.
“I’m hearing a division between traditional med device—implants, specifically—and medtech, anything with a battery, a sensor, virtual reality, any kind of tech . . .” she said. “All the [companies] that we’re working with that are doing massive hires have a tech component.”
Consumer tech companies have entered the medical space through collaborations like the partnership between Dexcom and Verily ( formerly Google Life Sciences); Google DeepMind’s work on diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration; and Verb Surgical, the surgical robotics venture backed by Verily and Johnson & Johnson.
Rutledge said someone at a well-known venture capital firm recently told her that everything the firm is evaluating for potential investments has a health IT or medtech component. That kind of funding interest is fueling hiring within companies that play in those spaces.
Such companies are also scouting highly experienced executives from large players to help them build operations and commercialize. “They’re buying that brand name,” Rutledge said. “They want the pedigree, but they want someone to have the pace of a startup.”
That’s welcome news to mid-career professionals who may have felt left out as major medtech companies merged.
“We’ve been very successful at pulling out incredible, high-level talent to work for much smaller companies with more of that early-stage excitement,” Rutledge said. “With some of the mergers . . . there’s so many of those folks who have been displaced or under-utilized.”
Other Hot roles
Within traditional medical device companies, regulatory professionals still enjoy a hiring advantage. “Regulatory obviously continues to be hot because there are not enough people being trained,” Cole noted.
While quality assurance and quality control continues to be a good career path, Cole said job titles in this area are no longer the top priority for hiring, as was the case a couple of years ago. That’s likely because FDA actions seem to be slowing down.
“Quality has tapered off,” Cole said. “When FDA was going out throwing out warning letters and 483 letters, you saw a lot of these companies growing their quality departments by 40–50%.” Now, “there’s a demand in quality still, but it’s not like it was two years ago.”
Device companies focused on diabetes, cardiology, and neuromodulation continue to thrive and hire, according to Cole.
But not everyone enjoys a place in the sun. With consolidation and some companies shifting toward a rep-less business model, sales jobs may be tougher to come by.
“I think the sales reps should be concerned,” Cole said. “I think you will see a smaller number of sales people every year.”
Collins, who specializes in placing sales professionals, noted that sales salaries have remained stable but haven’t increased, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for negotiation. Some sales reps working in medical supplies divisions at big organizations with overlapping call points are also experiencing streamlining.
“Those reps aren’t having a ton of access with clinicians,” she said. “I think it’s turning into dealing with the value analysis committees and C-suite . . . versus a real clinical sale.”
Yet even within sales, there are areas of higher demand, including in the vascular arena and physical oncology, Collins said.
Professionals working at traditional medical device companies with commoditized products may have more uncertain futures. Hiring seems to be especially slow within the spine industry, Cole said.
“Everyone is complaining about the me-too [products],” he said. “There’s not a lot of innovation going on.”
Other sectors in which employees’ fortunes may not be so favorable include orthopedics and diagnostics. Both the imaging diagnostics and patient diagnostics segments have seen salaries and job growth stagnate, Rutledge said.
The Fun Stuff
Consumer tech’s increasing focus on the healthcare space may be gradually ushering in unconventional perks for some employees. Rutledge has seen some medtech companies—particularly startups—undertake a “Google-ization” of office space, adopting “funky, cool” workspaces.
While still not the norm, some of the surveyed professionals reported unique benefits like flexible working hours, on-site fitness centers, and updated workplaces. One employee reported receiving every other Friday off, while a few others noted perks like onsite summer childcare, free or low-priced food, and additional vacation time.
While benefits overall haven’t changed significantly in 2016 for most employees, Cole said some may be getting higher bonuses. “Now bonuses are kind of coming back, and it’s the norm again,” he said.
Companies are rewarding employees with retention bonuses—a new phenomenon—and some professionals are receiving more than 100% of their bonus, Rutledge said. “It’s not every case, but I’m seeing a lot of cases where companies are putting their money where their mouth is with bonuses,” she added. “Even some of the small companies [are paying] deferred bonuses” as a retention program.
In MD+DI’s 2016 salary survey, more than two-thirds of full-time medtech professionals said they received a bonus in the past 12 months. The median bonus was $10,000, though many professionals reported bonuses many times that amount.
Stay Put or Look around?
Overall job satisfaction is high in the medtech industry—an average of 3.9 out of 5, according to the 2016 survey.
“For the first time in a long time, I’m seeing fewer people actively looking [ for a new job],” Cole said. “I think there were several years where everybody was out looking, and most of them have settled in and need to hang out, put some tenure in the company. They seem to be a lot more content.”
In this year’s survey, 12% of respondents said they are actively looking for a new job, down slightly from the 13% who reported doing so in 2015. Almost a third said they are strongly considering a new job search, about the same as last year.
But that contentment is not necessarily a boon for careers.
“The reality is, some of the CEOs and executives I talk to say the best time to look for new jobs is when they’re at the top of their game,” Cole said. “I find a lot of mid- and lower-level [management] people don’t have that mentality.”
Still, younger medtech professionals continue to live up to millennial stereotypes, moving from job to job frequently, which isn’t always a good thing. “More job stability to really anchor your success and your learning curve of the industry prior to making your next move” is a good idea, Collins advised.
Yet there may be a benefit to this restlessness. Startups that want to hire experienced device professionals don’t want employees who have spent an entire career at one firm. In this case, loyalty isn’t paying off.
“[Employers] don’t want linear experience,” Rutledge said. “CEOs will say . . . ‘How can they help us accelerate our R&D if they’ve only seen it done [one] way?’”
In an employees’ market, medtech companies can and should do a better job of attracting and retaining their ideal candidates.
“It’s not about the money,” Cole said. “I get people moving all the time for the opportunity and career growth path. That’s really what it should come down to.”
Article written by Marie Thibault – managing editor at MD+DI.