Serving Canada’s biotech industry
BioTalent Canada is the Human Resources partner of, and catalyst for growth in, Canada’s bio-economy. The company’s engagement with employers, associations, post-secondary institutions, immigrant serving agencies, and service providers has built a dynamic network that is strengthening skills, connecting job-ready talent to industry, and creating opportunities. BioTalent Canada practices the same industry standards it recommends to its stakeholders. This past year, BioTalent was awarded a Great Place to Work Certification, and was recognized as one of 2020’s Best Workplaces in Ontario.
Recently, Business View Magazine posed some questions to Rob Henderson, BioTalent’s President and CEO. The following is an edited version of his written reply.
BVM: Can you tell us a little about the history of BioTalent Canada? What was in the minds of its founders and what was the need that had to be filled?
Henderson: “BioTalent Canada was formed in 1997 by several industry associations to address the skills gaps in the biotech industry. For the first 15 years, we relied on Government of Canada funds to remain viable. These funds were directed by the federal government under the Sector Council Program. In 2012, we became an independent organization. Today, our mission is to provide valuable, evidence-based labour market information and the best job-ready human resources available.
BVM: Can you talk about your membership and why an organization would want to be a member?
Henderson: “We boast a membership base of 10 provincial and four national biotech industry associations that help make up BioTalent Canada’s governance structure. But we also have the BioTalent Canada Partnership Program that—much like our country—extends far and wide. It’s made up of more than 64 partners across Canada. Our partnership program consists of an array of employers, associations, immigrant serving agencies, post-secondary institutions, and more.
“There are plenty of benefits associated with a BioTalent Canada partnership. Among them, is the opportunity to:
- Access BioTalent Canada’s stakeholders directly,
- Get branding on various BioTalent Canada communications products,
- Create and share content through multiple BioTalent Canada channels,
- Receive discounts for BioTalent Canada products and Affinity Partners,
- Receive advice and resources on HR best practices, and
- Get the inside scoop on new projects, programs, studies and what’s coming down the road for biotech skills.
BVM: How important is people management and corporate culture in the biotechnology/life sciences industry?
Henderson: “People are the most important resource in any industry—biotech and life sciences included. Without people, there is no science. So, while a great idea or a great product may give a company the inside track to success, it’s good people that take a company across the finish line.
“We’ve overseen a variety of Labour Market Information (LMI) studies in which employers cite access to job-ready talent as a key barrier to commercialization in the bio-economy. We’ve taken that sentiment and—with our partners—have worked to create programs and standardize curricula that helps produce job-ready talent.”
BVM: What are some notable challenges faced in the industry over the past couple years, and what are some recent success stories or notable developments?
Henderson: “The biggest challenge, as mentioned earlier, is a labour supply shortage. Small- to medium-sized enterprises are hesitant to spend money onboarding and training new hires because they deem them too risky. This is where BioTalent Canada’s wage subsidy programs come into play. They mitigate the risk of new hires because employers no longer have to foot 100 percent of the bill. We’ve helped more than 2,500 Canadians begin their careers in the bio-economy through our wage subsidies.
“As for recent successes, we need look no further than to what’s taken place since COVID-19. Our partners and wage subsidy employers have been making great strides. Just to name a few:
- Abcellera received money from the Government of Canada to discover COVID-19 solutions and build a facility to manufacture antibody drugs
- STEMCELL Technologies developed advanced cell culture systems to isolate and identify the novel coronavirus.
- Greenfield Global was selected to partner with Longhorn Vaccines and Diagnostics LLC to accelerate COVID-19 testing and detection
“We get reports of stories like these—seemingly—on a weekly basis. You can read them all on our website. The work that BioTalent Canada puts forth helps these companies succeed in times of crisis. We’re proud of that.”
BVM: How has BioTalent Canada managed during the COVID-19 crisis?
Henderson: “Like everyone else, BioTalent Canada had to adapt to work-from-home. At first, it was a challenge, but I think we’ve done a great job of turning that challenge into an opportunity. It was important for us to connect with employers and other stakeholders. We needed them to know that our programs are still active and BioTalent Canada continues to operate and support the industry.
“Luckily for us, that was relatively easy. Our teams have worked for years to build foundational relationships with our partners. We were always in constant communication before the pandemic hit. We’ve been able to thrive because so many of our wage subsidy clients had to ramp up recruitment during COVID-19, especially those in medical manufacturing. And when we thrive, so do our clients.”
BVM: What does the landscape look like for the industry over the coming decade and how will BioTalent Canada continue to be a viable voice for the industry?
Henderson: “In 2018, Canada’s Economic Strategy Tables released a report—The Innovation and Competitiveness Imperative—wherein it claimed Canada has the ability to double its health and biosciences exports to $26B by 2025. This is a lofty, but attainable, goal that comes with challenges; challenges that BioTalent Canada is well-positioned to help address.
“I’m encouraged that Canada’s Economic Strategy Tables made a talent recommendation in its report. Biotech industry leaders have reiterated again and again that two of their barriers to success are access to talent and the capital required to attract and retain said talent. BioTalent Canada’s mission is to provide valuable, evidence-based labour market information and the best job-ready human resources available.
“In the coming decade, BioTalent Canada will continue to offer wage subsidies, professional development, and curricula recommendations that will load the pipeline with the talent needed to reach $26B by 2025.”
BVM: If you were writing a profile on BioTalent Canada, what are the salient points that you would like a reader to take away from it?
Henderson: “I think the most important thing we’d like convey is that BioTalent Canada is much more than wage subsidies. We’re Canada’s go-to source for human resources and skills development in biotechnology. We provide tools, training, and funding necessary to cultivate, recruit, and retain job-ready biotech talent. We also respond to the needs of Canada’s bio-economy employers—needs discovered through extensive labour marketing information studies that provide essential data and help chart the course of the industry’s future.
“But all this isn’t our ‘secret sauce.’ Like in so many great places to work, that lies in our team. You’ll never find a more dedicated, quirky, and fun group to work with. We survey our partners regularly, and the way our team serves our stakeholders is always our top mark.”
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AT A GLANCE
WHO: BioTalent Canada
WHAT: A catalyst for growth in Canada’s bio-economy
WHERE: Ottawa, Canada