On behalf of BioTalent Canada and its network of members and partners, I'd like to thank the members of the committee for the invitation and the opportunity to present to you today.
BioTalent Canada is a national non-profit association that strives to ensure that Canada's bioeconomy has access to the most skilled people available. Through labour market research that we perform, we work with federal government programs and our network of corporate industry partners to identify and address skill deficits which left unchecked could stall Canada's biotech industry as a key driver of the national economy.
As you know, we define Canada's bioeconomy as the invention, development, production, and use of products and processes that are based primarily on biological resources. As such, the bioeconomy cuts across health, energy, agriculture, and chemical and materials industries. An industry that has evolved rapidly due to scientific innovation, the Canadian biotech sector can be divided into four broad subsectors: biohealth, which includes medical devices and biopharmaceuticals; agri-biotech; bioenergy; and bioindustrial. Under this definition, the bioeconomy is responsible for roughly 7% of Canada's current GDP.
In terms of labour, 80% of Canadian biotech companies land in the SME or small to mid-size range, with fewer than 50 employees, and it is here that most of the jobs are created. Certainly biotech includes the widely known large pharmaceutical firms, but SMEs, growing contract research facilities, and academic partnerships also form important components.
In our most recent labour market research intelligence report, the majority of biotech CEOs surveyed stated as their two greatest barriers to success access to capital, which comes out strongly as number one, and access to talent.
I cannot stress enough how vociferous BioTalent Canada's national and provincial industry association partners are in their view that the single greatest barrier for biotech companies to overcome in becoming an employer of choice for immigrants is access to capital. Any improvement in Canadian policy that alleviates this pain point is universally and strongly recommended. Investment burn rates are inordinately high for biotech firms, causing CEOs to spend the bulk of their time seeking investment to sustain their operations instead of seeking talent to grow their business.
The bioeconomy is among the most educated industries, meaning that most individuals are late in their youth when they enter the workforce. In addition, new biotech products can take as long as 10 years to reach commercialization. This fact alone is hugely disadvantageous in attracting investors.
While the products made by the industry are highly regulated, you should know that the majority of jobs within the bioeconomy are not, with the exception of pharmacists and some of the medical professions. As a result, the bioeconomy could be a fertile landing place for immigrants with scientific backgrounds looking for primary or alternative scientific career paths.
The challenge is to expose those career paths to them early enough, at the right time, to give them access to the tools to enter, and to introduce them as viable options to the SMEs that are hiring. Newcomers with science backgrounds who are forced to wait or who fail in obtaining licensure in a regulated profession must be presented with alternative careers within a year at most, so that their science skills remain current and marketable.
Our research indicates that biotech employers who employ newcomers experience enhanced innovation, productivity, and even enhanced access to new markets and new investors. These competitive advantages can form compelling arguments why biotech companies should actively pursue newcomers as a strategic employment market.
Having been named to the ESDC panel on employment challenges of new Canadians by Minister Jason Kenney last fall, I was privileged to hear from regulators, immigrant-serving agencies, and newcomers across Canada about the major hurdles they face in their endeavours. Many of these have been echoed by BioTalent Canada in the past. They include that Canadian regulators currently have no incentive or mandate to present failed licensee candidates with alternative career paths. BioTalent Canada has a model skill transfer program that could introduce health professionals into the bioeconomy, but the regulators we have approached will not refer candidates to our resources.
Immigrant-serving agencies, especially in larger urban areas, do not coordinate efforts to place newcomers, meaning that access to networks and resources is not shared effectively.
Accurate and timely labour market information is not centralized, or even easily accessible to newcomers pre- and post-arrival.
Finally, smaller urban centres, many of which house viable biotech clusters, suffer from retention difficulties in which acclimatizing efforts for newcomers that would be taken on by cultural communities in larger urban centres fall to small employers, who are ill-equipped to take these on.
The biotech community also has a very large youth unemployment rate. Our partner, Life Sciences Ontario, in their study released this month cites it to be 18.9% for Ontario alone. This serves as direct competition for newcomers. Combined with the perceived risk that a small company takes in hiring any employee, the perception that newcomers and their employers will have to overcome linguistic or cultural barriers also serves to heighten the perceived risk.
This is the landscape in which the Canadian bioeconomy finds itself; a proud industry with a strong history of Canadian innovation disadvantaged by its own business cycle. It's need for capital investment trumps all else. It has clearly identified skills gaps where newcomers are recognized as a competitively advantageous market, but where systemic and policy limitations impede their introduction to productive and valuable jobs.
Thank you very much.