New labour market report indicates Western Canada’s bio-economy growing, but lacks workers

Labour market study underscores gaps exposed by COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ottawa, December 6, 2021 – The bio-economy, a potentially burgeoning sector of the Western Canada economy, is poised to create jobs, but the current pipeline for those positions is three-quarters empty.

This was the conclusion of an unprecedented labour market study by BioTalent Canada released this fall. Today, the organization released eight reports that unpack the current landscape, trends, challenges, and opportunities facing each region.

The report on Western Canada – including British Columbia and Alberta – and an accompanying report on Metro Vancouver conclude that the region’s talent pipeline is insufficiently stocked to meet the talent demand.  It is likely that Western Canada’s biotech industry will lack 18,800 bio-economy workers by 2029, and current estimates indicate there will not be enough workers to meet labour needs.

While other regions of Canada expect to see a significant post-pandemic decline in bio-economy employment in 2021, Western Canada does not.  Employment in the region’s bio-economy is expected to grow by just under 2.0% in the short term and by 1.2% annually over the medium/longer term. Whether potential employers can recruit the needed workers remains in question.

The reports note that the COVID-19 pandemic exposed significant gaps in the Canadian bio-economy, notably in bio-manufacturing and processing capacity, which saw Canada initially unable to produce sufficient protective equipment and having no domestic capacity to develop and manufacture vaccines. Efforts to close this gap could be hampered by a lack of qualified labour.

Estimates suggest Western Canada will need an additional 4,760 bio-manufacturing workers by 2029 (including 1,220 in bio-industrial and 1,740 in agri-bio) even without considering expansion growth due to recently announced federal investments. Only 25% of those positions will be fillable by predicted supply during this period.

“To fill the shortages, the bio-economy will need to develop new strategies,” says BioTalent President and CEO Rob Henderson. “In Western Canada, this could include efforts to broaden the talent pool. Western Canada’s bio-economy has a higher percentage of visible minorities than other regions, but the opportunity for the industry to be more diverse exists.”

Other notable findings in the Western Canada regional analysis:

  • Western Canada accounts for 28% of Canada’s bio-economy, with over 3,800 organizations – mainly small and medium-sized businesses – collectively employing some 48,000 people in 2019.
  • The bio-economy workforce in Western Canada covers a wide range of occupations, with research & development and manufacturing accounting for nearly half of all jobs in the region.
  • The Western Canadian bio-economy is expected to grow modestly from 2022 to 2029.
  • On average, women make up one-third (34%) of bio-economy workers in the region, with visible minorities about one-quarter (22%).


Sub-regional differences in economic conditions impact on bio-economy activity in parts of the region. Some of the more notable trends in sub-regions of Western Canada:


  • Home to several well-established bio-health companies.
  • Competition is a major recruitment challenge, especially for attracting entry-level talent.
  • The local technology industry is a key competitor for talent as it often offers higher compensation for entry-level positions.
  • A strong student biotech association helps connect graduates to employers.
  • The Immigrant Employment Council of BC’s Facilitating Access to Skilled Talent (FAST) program helps newcomers to Canada translate their skills and experience to the bio-economy.

Northern British Columbia

  • Focused mainly on forestry and biomass (wood pellets and pellet production).
  • Mills rely on a wide range of talent, from general labourers to occupations related to trades,

transportation and equipment operation.

  • Recruitment is not usually a challenge, with many people attracted to the affordability of living in smaller centers, but employers compete for the same talent with nearby oil refineries and chemical plants.
  • Retention can be an issue, with some people in high-demand trades staying for only a year or two before leaving.


  • Focused primarily on bio-health but also includes some bio-industrial companies.
  • Finding entry-level talent is relatively easy given the supply of graduates from universities and colleges in the province, but employers note a lack of industry experience among PhD graduates, including the business skills needed to develop products.
  • Bio-industrial companies have difficulties finding and retaining talent due to competition from the oil and gas sector, which requires many of the same skills.

For additional information and to read the full reports, visit:

Funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Sectoral Initiatives Program. 


About BioTalent Canada

BioTalent Canada supports the people behind life-changing science. Trusted as the go-to source for labour market intelligence, BioTalent Canada guides bio-economy stakeholders with evidence-based data and industry-driven standards. BioTalent Canada is focused on igniting the industry’s brainpower bridging the gap between job-ready talent and employers and ensuring the long-term agility, resiliency, and sustainability of one of Canada’s most vital sectors. Recently named one of the 50 Best Workplaces in Canada with 10-50 employees and certified as a Great Place to Work® for 2021, BioTalent Canada practices the same industry standards it recommends to its stakeholders. These distinctions were awarded to BioTalent Canada following a thorough and independent survey analysis conducted by Great Place to Work®.

For more information, please visit

Media Inquiries

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

Rob Henderson is available for comment.