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Howard Miller

Howard Miller

Writer & Editor, BioTalent Canada

Work-integrated learning programs can help biotech companies attract and retain the talent they need to innovate. Learn how BioTalent Canada can help your company adapt.


In 2018, the Health and Bioscience Economic Strategy Tables released a report, The Innovation and Competitiveness Imperative, that projected Canada’s health and biosciences exports could double to $26 billion by 2025. The report outlined a variety of recommendations that — if executed — would make this ambitious goal an attainable one.

One such recommendation was based on talent. To become a world health and bioscience leader, Canada’s biotech industry must attract and develop its own talent: graduates, both domestic and international, from Canadian post-secondary institutions.

Talent is key to continued biotech growth

Canadian biotech leaders and experts identify access to talent and the capital to attract and retain that talent as two of the largest barriers to continued growth and success. This comes from roundtable discussions as part of BioTalent Canada’s Labour Market Information (LMI) studies.

The Canadian biotech industry is made up of mostly small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Every dollar has to be spent strategically. There’s little room for error.

Work-integrated learning opens the doors to success

Work-integrated learning (WIL) programs — like those managed by BioTalent Canada — can help solve these two challenges. These programs connect young talent to resource-needy biotech and health employers across the country in the form of wage subsidies.

WIL programs, such as BioTalent Canada’s Student Work Placement Program (SWPP), have many advantages that benefit both employers and young Canadians:

Listicle 1

Accelerating company progress

WIL programs are a great tool for organizations that want to meet objectives and timelines but can’t afford the salaries of full-time, or even contract, employees. SWPP, for example, covers the cost of a student’s salary by 75% up to a maximum of $7,500.

And these students can have transformative effects on an organization. Last year, Toronto-based health start-up CleanSlate UV utilized SWPP to bring Jenna Storoschuk in for a four-month placement. In that short period of time, the University of Waterloo biomedical engineering student conceptualized, built, pilot tested, and prepared new software for beta launch.

Today, hospitals across the globe use CleanSlate UV in the fight against acquired infections. Jenna’s work enables the best use of this technology through analytics and actionable reports.

Listicle 2

Preparing students for life after graduation

The classroom is very different from the workplace. WIL programs give students a taste of the real world and better prepare them for a seamless transition into practical work environments after graduation.

Employers benefit greatly from hiring students with — to borrow a sports term — big-game experience. Graduates with work experience know what to expect and have an easier time hitting the ground running.

Listicle 3

Facilitating relationships between employers and graduates

BioTalent Canada’s LMI brief from August 2020 showed that enrolment in Canadian biotech- and health-related programs is at an all-time high. However, it also showed these graduates are highly coveted by other industries and have been lured away.

Graduates on the hunt for jobs are more likely to access their network before going outside of it. WIL programs help build a connection between the students and graduates and biotech, bioscience, and health employers providing opportunities within those networks from an early stage.

Diverse group of women involved in STEM

A long history of success

BioTalent Canada has had great success with its wage subsidy programs. Participants report incredible achievements from their co-op students, which speaks to the transformative power young minds can have on an organization.

As for the numbers, SWPP alone has placed more than 1,500 students in biotech roles across Canada. And with the health care sector now eligible to apply for these funds, that number will continue to grow at a rapid rate.

If Canada’s going to hit — and even exceed — the Health and Bioscience Economic Strategy Tables’ lofty projections, it’s paramount that the talent-based recommendations be acted upon.

One way to do that is to see the SME-heavy biotech industry continue to leverage work-integrated learning programs. They’re a mutually-beneficial way to access the young talent of today and help turn them into the leaders of tomorrow.

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