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Howard Miller

Writer & Editor, BioTalent Canada

The global COVID-19 pandemic will go down in the history books — although perhaps “e-books” would be more appropriate in this day and age — as a crisis unlike anything seen in more than 100 years. And the bio-economy hasn’t been immune to the economic impacts of COVID-19.

Yet, amidst all of the challenges, opportunities have emerged that would’ve seemed impossible a year ago. Vaccinations have been developed, approved, and rolled out in a fraction of the time to which even the industry was accustomed. But something even more revolutionary is how this pandemic has galvanized entire industries and thousands of businesses to rethink, adapt, and pivot — if even for a short period of time — to become part of the bio-economy.

We’re all in this together

Prior to COVID-19, BioTalent Canada has had a successful track record of delivering the Student Work Placement Program (SWPP) wage subsidies in the bioscience industry. Since 2017, it has helped more than 2,800 students find placements through SWPP within more than 1,000 biotech and health care organizations.

Last year, BioTalent Canada was approached with an opportunity to expand SWPP to include health care. It was an opportunity to support an industry in need during the pandemic and to bridge the gap for students to a career in health care.

The extra subsidy spots enabled it to support an additional 1,500 placements devoted exclusively to health care.

“The COVID-19 pandemic was devastating to employment in Canada, including for young people and new graduates,” says Rob Henderson, President and CEO of BioTalent Canada.
“The enhancements to SWPP ensured that students could gain valuable career experience and position them to secure meaningful employment in health care.”

Industries are diverse ecosystems

What’s important to understand, and something that became very clear over the past year, is that for biotech and health care sectors to be successful, they need to be viewed as a separate yet interdependent ecosystem with a variety of closely-aligned job descriptions and critical skill sets. As demands continue to increase, more opportunities for careers in both sectors will appear.

There’s a distinction to be made between the sectors. They need each other to thrive because biotech creates the innovation that health care utilizes and delivers. Either way, there’s a need well beyond the lab coats. And wage subsidies can help companies bring on students to assist with business development, marketing, finance, and a host of other non-STEM functions.
Vancouver-based 3D printing company 3DQue pivoted during the pandemic to make hand sanitizer bottles and PPE. It applied for wage subsidies and hired nine students to work in all parts of the business: technology, production, design, finance, marketing, and supply chain. The students were able to take on full roles within three weeks.

The pandemic is going to end. Life will return to some semblance of normal. But what will remain is the need for talented young people driving innovation.

The students were fundamental to the company’s ability to respond and deliver on the new business opportunity. “Students do everything from R&D on software and hardware to digital marketing, production of a weekly livestream, coordination of hiring and grants, and bookkeeping,” says Stephanie Sharp, Co-Founder and CEO of 3DQue. “Without the wage subsidies, we couldn’t have developed our technology and produced PPE.”

Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders

“It’s imperative to identify, recruit, and develop highly-skilled research professionals to ensure the continuation of our important work,” says Dr. David Barnett, a researcher at the Atlantic Cancer Research Institute in Moncton, NB. “From an intern’s perspective, the benefits of work-integrated learning terms can range from developing professional skills to identifying a future career, paying for school, or even discovering what they may not want to do for a career.”

The takeaway from the past 12 months is clear: don’t hesitate to think outside the box when considering wage subsidies. Canadian post-secondary students in a wide range of programs and areas of study bring great value to their employers. Companies that remained nimble in this pandemic recognized this and relied on SWPP’s versatility to spur their successful transition.

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