Canadian bio-manufacturing industry facing labour shortage
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.
Research & Development
OTTAWA — Canada’s bio-economy is facing a severe labour shortage, with demand far exceeding supply as soon as 2024 according to a new labour market study released on Oct. 13 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.
“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.”
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.
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.