The Right Staff: Why HR is Critical for Canadian Bio-economy Small and Medium Size Enterprises

All Canadian biotech small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) that raised the most capital or completed the most successful partnership ventures in the past year have one asset in common: top-notch employees.

“Biotech sectors such as agri-food and sustainable development will soon be global challenges which is why Canada must be forward thinking to maintain its standing as a global biotech leader,” BioTalent Canada’s Executive Director Rob Henderson stated in a March 22, 2012 National Post report Building the Bio-economy ( “Those countries that have access to the richest talent pools will lead the rest,” he continued.

Many companies in this highly-skilled, tech-heavy sector are competing for individuals with specific skills sets. The ratio of supply to demand for skilled individuals is skewed enough to position the worker as a coveted asset to SMEs. As the Canadian population ages, businesses including biotechnology SMEs struggle to fill the void left by retired workers.

In its 2008 accomplishment report, Meeting the HR Needs of the Canadian Bio-economy, BioTalent Canada confirms the biotechnology industry is not spared from the talent drain. The report specifies 34.4% of biotech companies surveyed were dealing with a shortage of skillsi.

Untapped Biotechnology Talent in Vancouver, BC

The demand for qualified biotechnology staff can no longer be met by those trained in Canada alone. Industry is strategizing by focusing on recruiting internationally educated professionals (IEPs) — members of Canada’s vast and diverse immigrant population.

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Every year, approximately 35,000 people from around the world arrive to live in British Colombia, where immigrants already make up a high proportion of the population —one third of Vancouver residentsii.

According to a 2010 Labour Force Survey, 41% of those BC landed immigrants hold a university degree and another 28.2% of them have a post-secondary certificateiii.

These IEPs represent a large, untapped pool of researchers, technicians and other scientists trained abroad. If given the chance, they could be the one ingredient that makes a SME the ‘biotech company to beat’. “IEPs are experienced, ready-to-work people who can offer new perspectives and knowledge, and perhaps even bring potential new clients,” says Henderson.

HR for the Canadian Bio-economy

One of the added staffing challenges for the Canadian bio-economy is that a vast majority of private-sector employers — more than 75% — are SMEs.

With a high premium put internally on innovation and commercialization, and little resources or personnel dedicated to human resources (HR), finding suitable candidates becomes even more complicated for biotech SMEs.

One way businesses are solving this challenge is through resources created specifically to facilitate the process of bringing IEPs onboard. As a sector council, BioTalent Canada identifies the specialized skills employers need, connects those employers to qualified talent, and provides them with the tools to manage their human resources effectively. Its resources are aimed at supplying Canada’s bio-economy with the qualified people it needs for continued global success.

To learn more about BioTalent Canada’s programs and tools, visit

i Meeting the HR needs of the bio-economy Accomplishments Report 2011, BioTalent Canada
iii Labour Force Survey 2010, Statistics Canada