Solving the specialization challenge
Story originally published in BioTalent Canada’s Close-up on the bio-economy: Ontario
Since Resilience acquired its facility in Mississauga last year, the company has been busy expanding production and attracting new customers, including the Government of Canada. But the expansion has highlighted the need for more right-skilled talent to complete the work, an issue affecting all of Canada’s bio-pharmaceutical industry.
Q: Can you tell us a little about Resilience?
KEITH TUCKER, SENIOR DIRECTOR OF HR: Resilience is a technology and manufacturing company that strives to democratize access to complex medicines. More specifically, we work with researchers, biotech and pharmaceutical companies, and governments to help develop and produce a range of experimental and commercialized therapies. We can support small, early-phase runs for clinical trials, as well as large-scale manufacturing once drugs are approved for commercial use in Canada.
Q: What does the expansion in Mississauga mean for Resilience?
KT: It means growth and everything that comes with that. It has to be managed thoughtfully because in our industry everything we do has to be flawless. Getting it wrong can have real consequences, so we need to adapt and scale up the right way and do things more effectively and efficiently. That demands the right people with the right skills and, even more importantly, the right mindset. Given the stakes, this work can’t be “just another job”. Leaders, manufacturing technicians, every other role — every employee has to have a real commitment to quality in everything they do.
Q: How easy is it to find the talent you need?
KT: It’s extremely difficult. Our work is highly technical, requiring some very tightly focused specializations. Only a few schools in Canada offer those programs, and the number of students who choose to take them is extremely small. Which I can understand. The biopharmaceutical manufacturing sector in Canada is so small that many students haven’t even heard of some of the jobs within it. Even if they have, they may not be too keen to go into a field with such a limited number of potential employers. But then it’s very difficult to build the industry without the people you need. On top of that, grads tend to stay close to where they went to school, so all the companies in the Toronto area end up competing for the same very small pool of talent, which makes it hard to recruit — and retain.
Q: How do you solve that issue?
KT: Compensation is obviously a part of it, but you can’t rely exclusively on salaries. There’s always someone willing and able to pay more. What we offer extends beyond competitive pay: We place value on owners and builders who are motivated to join our mission, and we want our employees to want to stay because of our culture, purposeful work and career growth opportunities. We focus on career development. We hire new grads with the right fundamentals and the right mindset and provide extensive training in the specialized skills we need.
Q: What does that training look like?
KT: Everyone who comes to work for us gets some. In certain cases, it lasts for months because, as I mentioned, there’s no room for error. We need to be absolutely sure employees are ready before we can let them work with our products. Related to our training programs, we work with every employee to understand their career goals and create a development plan that gives them a clear path forward with our company.
Q: Are there ways you’re able to grow the talent pool?
KT: Immigration is one solution right now. We can hire workers from other countries who are fully trained and have often been doing the job for years, so they’re able to come on board and get up to speed very quickly. We also want to support programs that encourage Canadian students to specialize in this highly competitive career. Partnering with universities and colleges to develop more STEM skills are key.
Q: What needs to happen to build up the local talent supply?
KT: We need to find ways of encouraging young people to get into this field. The kind of biopharmaceutical manufacturing we do is the way of the future, and there’s real interest and support from the government to expand it. Now we have to raise awareness among students of the great opportunities in this industry.
Company profile: National Resilience, Inc.
Location: Mississauga, ON
Employees: Approximately 320 in Canada
Bio-economy sub-sector: Bio-health
Resilience offers innovative, customized manufacturing capacity to support biopharmaceutical partners at all stages of drug development, from pre-clinical trials to commercial supply.