COVID-19 pandemic highlights importance of work-integrated learning’s role in advancing Canadian innovation

OTTAWA, ON – June 16, 2020 – Alberta Impact and Health City recently hosted a panel discussion that highlighted the importance of work-integrated learning to advance Canada’s bio-economy—now and post-pandemic.

Panelists from BioTalent Canada, Health City, IMV Inc. and the University of Waterloo shared their insights into how work-integrated learning shapes Canada’s innovation landscape and how to maintain the positive momentum.

Panelists included:

“Canada’s post-secondary institutions have helped produce one of the most educated workforces globally,” says Rob Henderson, President and CEO of BioTalent Canada. “Yet, where they excel at teaching the theory of science, transferring the business of science often remains elusive.”

The Government of Canada’s Student Work Placement Program (SWPP) helps to correct misalignments between industry and academia. SWPP offers students hands-on, real-world experience that prepares them to join the workforce seamlessly upon graduation.

“Students in our programs will do four to six work terms,” says Ross Johnston, Executive Director for Co-op at the University of Waterloo. “When they graduate, they will graduate with up to two years’ worth of work experience, and that’s the real value of work-integrated learning programs because students are able to hit the ground running when they come in to work for an organization, which has an immediate impact on the bottom line for the organization, and in turn the local and national economy.”

Since its inception, IMV Inc., a clinical stage biopharmaceutical company developing cancer immunotherapies who recently pivoted their operations to develop a vaccine candidate for COVID-19, has used programs like SWPP to bring in young, innovative talent to move its research forward.

“The quality of students that we get blows my mind,” says Marianne Stanford, PhD, Vice President, Research & Development, IMV Inc. “And maybe it’s because we’ve been doing it for so long that people know of us. But, what it tells me is that the amount of applications that we get and the number of students that we get wanting to come to IMV Inc. means that there’s an excess of quality students who are not getting placed and I don’t really understand.”

Reg Joseph, CEO of Health City and Chair of BioTalent Canada’s Board of Directors, notes that the disconnect between IMV Inc.’s positive experiences with work-integrated learning and the hesitancy of other biotech employers to do the same may be a result of experience in onboarding and training.

“Many biotech companies have strong ties to the academic institutions that host the labs where small- and medium-sized enterprises get their start. But training students to contribute as a valuable member of the team, in a real-world environment, is different from being trained in research or teaching that they may be more familiar with,” says Mr. Joseph.

Programs like SWPP help alleviate these concerns because they produce well-prepared talent that can integrate into an employer’s operations quickly with less time spent to onboard.

“The recent pandemic has displayed the strength of talent and innovation that make up Canada’s bio-economy,” says Mr. Henderson. “It has also shone light on the importance of work-integrated learning in aligning the needs of industry and academia. To move forward post-pandemic, academic institutions will not only be responsible for teaching our kids, it will be their responsibility to position them to get a job.”

To view the full panel discussion, visit: .

About BioTalent Canada

BioTalent Canada™ is the HR partner and catalyst for growth in Canada’s bio-economy. Our engagement with employers, associations, post-secondary institutions, immigrant serving agencies and service providers has built a dynamic network that is identifying labour market needs, strengthening skills, connecting job-ready talent to industry and creating opportunities. Recently awarded a Great Place to Work® Certification, BioTalent Canada practices the same industry standards they recommend to their stakeholders.

About the Student Work Placement Program

The Student Work Placement Program (SWPP) has expanded eligibility requirements to increase support for hiring students during COVID-19.
Among the updates, post-secondary institutions (universities, colleges and polytechnics) will be able to be the employer of record to offer meaningful placements to students.
For the complete list of updates, eligibility requirements, and to learn more about the program, visit

Media Inquiries

Siobhan Williams
Director, Marketing and Communications
BioTalent Canada
613-235-1402 ext. 229
[email protected]