The Flemish Institute for Biotechnology

The Flemish Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) employs 1,800 people worldwide. They can all count on HR support from its headquarters in Ghent. Hudson assists VIB in recruiting and outlining the salary strategy and outplacement programmes. HR Director Marijke Lein takes us through the HR challenges of a scientific research institute.

The power of a strong and broad partnership based on pragmatism and expertise

VIB is a leading research institute in the life sciences worldwide and has its headquarters in Ghent. It translates the scientific findings of researchers and industrial partners into pharmaceutical, agricultural and industrial applications. A total of 1,800 employees are active within the scientific institute, 850 of whom are on the VIB payroll.

“Many researchers work with their own grant or are on the payroll of Flemish universities, where we are well embedded,” explains HR Director Marijke Lein. Although only about half of the employees are on the VIB payroll, the institute does provide HR support to everyone. It does this with an eight-person team and collaborates with Hudson for specific assignments such as outplacement, recruitment and salary strategy.

Vulnerable in the labour market

VIB made a very conscious decision to offer outplacement to employees who leave the institute. Even though it’s not compulsory, VIB wants to support people who enter the labour market feeling vulnerable as best it can.

“Researchers often start working as doctoral students after obtaining their master’s degree, then embark on a career as a post-doctoral scientist,” says Marijke Lein. “When that ends, they have to look for a new position without ever having applied for a job. That makes some people very vulnerable, and it’s precisely this group that we want to offer a boost to enable them to look for a new job with sufficient confidence.”

It is also not easy for foreigners who want to stay in Belgium to enter the labour market. Outplacement guidance, geared to the workings of the Belgian labour market, is very useful for them too.

Maintaining contact during outplacement

When an employee who leaves VIB needs outplacement, Hudson takes care of the outplacement programme. After an intake interview, the employee’s talents, ambitions, motives and interests are considered together with a coach. This results in an action plan to position them in the labour market. “It’s so important that Hudson knows our organisation well,” says Marijke Lein. “It often concerns a dismissal that is not based on poor performance. There are often other circumstances that require us to let people go. Hudson understands that context very well, and it shows in the outplacement programmes.”

When the outplacement programme starts, the participant is often no longer working at VIB. But that doesn’t mean that VIB immediately drops the person concerned. “We know that Hudson provides very personal contact with the people in the outplacement programme, but we as clients also receive regular feedback on their progress. That way, we know where things are going well and where they are not and we are informed when someone has found a new job.”

Critical recruitment

Based on the excellent cooperation in outplacement, VIB has also started giving Hudson recruitment assignments in recent years. Not so much for recruiting researchers, but for more generic profiles, says Marijke Lein. “We found it difficult to find the right people for these types of jobs. Hudson did a direct search for us for people in the operational team, HR and the purchasing department.”

In order to track down the best talent, Hudson insists on critical recruitment. Hudson evaluates potential candidates’ analytical, organisational and interpersonal skills with tools and tests to assess whether they are a good fit for the organisation. “For a specific recruitment in our operational team, we noticed that the search took quite a bit of time, but it paid off in the end because we found a perfect match” says Marijke Lein. “That makes a thorough (and long) search worthwhile.”

“For a specific recruitment in our operational team, we noticed that the search took quite a bit of time, but it paid off in the end because we found a perfect match”

New job model

The third part of the cooperation between VIB and Hudson focuses on the scientific institute’s salary policy. More specifically, the remuneration of the more than 100 employees at the head office was an issue. “For positions in innovation and technology, business development, patents, starting up new businesses or the grant office, we found it difficult to compare remuneration with the market,” says Marijke Lein. Hudson suggested that VIB untangle the knot by creating a new job model for the organisation.

Hudson created job descriptions for these employees (using the Job Architect tool) and developed a strategy to evolve from the existing classification to job-specific clusters. Groups of jobs emerged with equal weight, responsibility, complexity and competencies. However, Hudson considered the specific needs of VIB when performing this exercise. “We didn’t want a heavy points system,” Marijke Lein explains, “we prefer a light form of job appraisal that makes it clear to everyone what a certain job/pay grade means.”

Internally consistent, externally aligned

The reform of job classification was the ideal basis for the salary policy reform. Hudson provided an extensive benchmark study with a detailed analysis of common practices in various subsectors. The data from that study allowed VIB to shape a new salary policy and to focus on the underlying mechanisms.

VIB arrived at an internally consistent model while taking into account external common practices. “It was a thorough process that we are very satisfied with”, says Marijke Lein. “For our organisation, it’s a permanent model that we update regularly. That is also reflected in the communication.” During the preliminary stages, Hudson consulted with the board and unit managers.

During the implementation, the new structure was reassessed with the board. “Hudson gave the employees a clear presentation about the new structure at the start. Every year, employees are given a sheet that explains which class they are in and what growth is possible within that class. It’s very clear and doesn’t contain abstract diagrams; it’s very practical and achievable. As an HR director, I like to give concrete information. Such a hands-on approach is very useful.”

“It was a thorough process that we are very satisfied with”
Marijke Lein
HR Director

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