Labour market study underscores gaps exposed by pandemic
Canada’s bio-economy is facing a severe labour shortage, with demand far exceeding supply as soon as 2024 according to a new, unprecedented labour market study released by BioTalent Canada. The national data and analysis suggests the growing bio-economy sector will need as many as 65,000 additional workers by 2029 to meet demand, and current forecasts show the talent pipeline to be three-quarters empty.
“The talent pipeline should be overflowing, but it’s not”
“Unless steps are taken now to ensure a steady flow of bio-economy skills, Canada will not be ready for the next few years, let alone another crisis,” says Rob Henderson, President and CEO of BioTalent Canada. “Infrastructure is not enough – Canada needs world-class brain power inside those buildings.”
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The extensive labour market study includes an industry census, which indicates that Canada currently has some 12,000 bio-economy establishments, employing about 200,000 workers. This total is projected to grow to 223,000 workers by the end of the decade, but unless current conditions change only about a quarter of the available positions will be filled.
“The talent pipeline should be overflowing, but it’s not,” says Henderson. “In some sub-sectors, there will be an average of at least two job openings for every potential candidate by 2022. By 2029, that ratio could grow to 4:1.”
Bio-manufacturing is an area of particular concern, especially as Canada looks to increase domestic production and address the dependence on foreign suppliers exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. For bio-manufacturing and production, as well as distribution and logistics, labour supply is projected to be less than 25% of labour demand from 2021 through 2029. This is even before considering the additional labour demand stemming from efforts to regain Canada’s capacity to bio-manufacture its own vaccines.
“The evidence makes it clear action is needed now,” Henderson says.
The research underscores an urgent need to build human capacity in the bio-economy through concentrated recruitment and retention strategies.
Proposed solutions identified through the study include:
- Diversity – Broaden the talent pool, including recent immigrants (who currently comprise only 9% of bio-economy workers), internationally educated professionals (just 17% of the current bio-economy), Indigenous workers and workers with disabilities (less than 1% each respectively).
- Awareness – The research shows low to moderate awareness among students of bio-economy opportunities. Outreach, such as information on possible career paths, career fairs and networking events, could help employers connect with students as early as possible to influence career choices.
- On-the-job training– Increasing work-integrated learning for employees will help build practical skills in addition to their academic credentials.
- Re-skilling – Bio-economy employers will have to look for talent from other industries where it is available and find the means to upskill and re-skill workers in front-line and management positions rapidly.
- Human Resources – Given the bio-economy primarily consists of smaller companies, fewer than 30% of bio-economy companies even have one dedicated employee for HR. To fill the talent pipeline, there needs to be alignment between opportunity and recruitment and improved HR practices generally.
In all sub-sectors of the bio-economy, Henderson notes the need for talent does not just apply to science skills. Employers also identify essential ‘soft skills’ as key priorities, including problem-solving, collaboration, communications, adaptability and interpersonal skills.
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“These are businesses, and like all business they require marketing, finance, logistics, communications and administrative ability,” he explains.
The data and analysis provide a unique perspective, quantifying the magnitude of the skills pipeline needed for Canada to develop its bio-economy effectively.
The Labour Market Indicator study included an employer survey. The survey, which was completed in March 2020 – just as the pandemic was taking hold – provided a baseline for the research. This was followed by two additional COVID-19-related surveys. The study also includes the first-ever national Demand and Supply report about the bio-economy.
This rigorous methodology – working in conjunction with economists – has never before been done in Canada’s bio-economy.
“BioTalent Canada was in the field when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, tracking its impact,” Henderson says. “This was a unique opportunity to research the industry at the very moment it was under pressure to address a global crisis.”
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