Putting bio-economy careers on the map
Story originally published in BioTalent Canada’s Close-up on the bio-economy: National report
Serving some 600 local life sciences and health technologies organizations in the Greater Montreal area, Montréal InVivo has a unique perspective on the human resources challenges facing firms in its region — which include helping young professionals develop the in-demand skills and forging professional pathways into the life sciences field.
Q: Can you paint a picture of Montreal’s life sciences ecosystem today?
FRANK BÉRAUD, CEO: It’s a big, diverse field that covers everything from biotechnologies and pharmaceuticals to health artificial intelligence (AI), research and manufacturing. All together, the 450 companies in our cluster contribute almost 80 percent of Quebec’s life sciences’ GDP.
Q: What are the biggest HR challenges for the ecosystem as a whole?
FB: Competition for scarce talent in niche areas. There’s a lot of demand for people with experience in big data and AI, for example, and we compete with other industries for the same individuals.
CLAUDIE NOËL, DIRECTOR OF SKILLS AND TALENT DEVELOPMENT: We also need to build more pathways for new professionals into life sciences. There’s no single route into the field and no central location where people can post or look for jobs. And there are so many opportunities besides working in the lab: finance, marketing, business development, project management, legal… We want people, especially young graduates, to know about the full range.
Q: How important is that youth cohort, the next generation?
CN: Essential. And really, we need them to develop in-demand skills before companies start asking for them. You can’t fill 200 positions overnight.
FB: We also need to improve employee retention in the ecosystem overall. So workers stay here and we benefit from their experience. People need to know it’s possible to build a career in life sciences and health technologies in Quebec.
Q: How do you do that? How do you get young workers with the right skills into the field, and how do you keep them in the province?
FB: We’ve developed a short training program called Continuum that helps people create hybrid professional profiles, blending their backgrounds in life sciences with expertise in other areas such as bioinformatics or data science. This kind of program could be applied to any number of career paths, from business development to biomanufacturing. If you look at our own organization, most of us have degrees in life sciences but we work in project management, communications or entrepreneurship.
CN: Continuum will help young and experienced professionals develop adjacent or niche skills in big data and AI applied to human health. We know that the more fluent people can be in new areas in high demand, the more likely they’ll be to stay in the industry. The first cohort has just gone through and is now integrated into various companies for an immersive training period.
Q: How broad is your talent pool?
FB: We want it to be as broad as possible. There’s been a push to attract and retain international students. We did a few professional “speed dating” events that connected international students to local employers who had open positions or internships and it was a big hit. We’re also targeting the local talent pool help them connect with local employers. The career fair we created to help them connect during the EFFERVESCENCE 2021 event was a big success. It shows that there’s a need for a specialized platform where companies and candidates can find each other.
CN: We also have a partnership with the City of Montreal that provides financial support for women in life sciences to study entrepreneurship. The idea is that if we encourage more women to become entrepreneurs, we can increase that number of women in leadership positions. Women make up less than 15% of board members in the industry.
Q: You said earlier you want to make sure workers are aware of the full range of opportunities the ecosystem has to offer. How do you do that?
CN: We are currently working with Pharmabio Development on a platform that lists the types of skills the biotech companies are looking for, and the jobs in the sector that exist outside the wet lab. We can use that as a hook to attract more people into the sector. But we definitely do need to continue promoting the various pathways into life sciences.
Company profile: Montréal InVivo
Bio-economy sub-sectors: All
Montreal InVivo is the economic development agency for life sciences and health technologies in Greater Montreal, supporting an ecosystem that employs roughly 41,000 people and includes private companies, research organizations and government agencies. Montréal InVivo’s mandate is to create an environment where all its members can grow and succeed.