Booming industry needs qualified bioscience workers

HELP WANTED: Earn above-average salary and benefits in a clean industry that is growing and has a secure future. Apply to Manitoba’s bioscience companies.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/07/2019 (1126 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

HELP WANTED: Earn above-average salary and benefits in a clean industry that is growing and has a secure future. Apply to Manitoba’s bioscience companies.

One might think such an advertisement would net a flurry of resumés from people seeking a good career, but that’s not always the case. They can’t hire enough qualified people in Manitoba.

A profile of the Manitoba bioscience industry was released last week with conclusions both encouraging and concerning.

Bioscience a "big player" in Manitoba economy, says Tracey Maconachie (Joe Bryksa / Free Press files)

The good news is this industry is so substantial in Manitoba, its size surprised even people who work in the field. It generated $9.3 billion in revenue in 2017. More than 14,000 Manitobans are currently employed in the bioscience field.

The bad news is Manitoba employers can’t find sufficient homegrown talent. The study shows 81 per cent of industry leaders find it’s a major obstacle to attract non-supervisory employees, and 95 per cent cite a major obstacle finding competent supervisors to hire.

The study was commissioned by Bioscience Association Manitoba (BAM), and it combined data from Statistics Canada with a survey of close to 100 firms that belong to BAM through fields such as health biotech, ag biotech and clean technology.

Some of the larger firms are Emergent BioSolutions (the former Cangene), Bausch Health (formerly Valeant), new cannabis companies such as Delta 9 and ag-tech companies such as Farmers Edge and Conviron.

This is an industry in which 50 per cent of the workforce holds a bachelor’s, master’s or PhD degree. This compares with the Manitoba average of 25 per cent of people who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.

BAM president Tracey Maconachie put it succinctly: “The results reinforce our message that bioscience is a big player in the provincial economy.”

The difficulty many companies have in recruiting staff often begins with education, or more specifically, the lack of it.

This is an industry in which 50 per cent of the workforce holds a bachelor’s, master’s or PhD degree. This compares with the Manitoba average of 25 per cent of people who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.

And even people who hold such degrees aren’t necessarily trained in the narrow disciplines required by the highly specialized bioscience firms. For example, Manitoba companies trying to fill positions for chemical engineers quickly find no post-secondary institutions in Manitoba offer chemical-engineering degrees.

That must change. Manitoba’s post-secondary institutions should fill any gaps between the skills of its graduates and the needs of this substantial Manitoba industry. While university-level studies are about more than training workers for the job market, it’s also important to be responsive to the community on which the universities rely. If the bioscience industry needs chemical engineers, a nimble university will hire professors in the chemical-engineering field and create a degree program.

Immigration officials can also help by giving priority to applicants who have the necessary bioscience qualifications and want to settle in Manitoba. This concept of tailoring immigrants to job-market demand is already done to some degree by Manitoba’s provincial nominee program, but the relevant quotas can be increased by federal officials who control the number of immigrants allowed to move here.

Manitoba should also make a concerted effort to attract qualified workers from other provinces.

The long-term rewards are worth the effort. When a highly educated workforce earns above-average salaries in a stable industry, there are innumerable trickle-down benefits to the community, both economically and socially.

The companies are doing their part by creating career opportunities. Related sectors, including education and immigration, should provide the conditions necessary to support the field and allow its continued success.

What’s good for Manitoba’s bioscience industry is good for all of Manitoba.

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