submitted by Vivian Beer, Manager HR Strategy, PEI BioAlliance
PEI BioAlliance recently unveiled a new HR strategy for the province’s bioscience sector. HR Strategy 2025: Breaking Barriers – Driving Growth is the fourth HR Strategy in the history of the PEI bioscience cluster.
The strategy focuses on actions to enhance recruitment and retention success, provide HR support to companies, address the talent gap through skills and training development, and increase public awareness and understanding of bioscience career paths.
The PEI bioscience business community and its partners have collaborated to grow strong, sustainable organizations that are offering rewarding careers on Prince Edward Island.
The strategy is built on 17 years of experience and well-tracked key metrics which allows us to look back and see all that we have accomplished, the strong sector growth, and the opportunities we must capture to keep building a robust community of talent that can match and enable future growth.
It has been just over five years since the launch of our last strategy. It feels like an era ago – in terms of the pandemic and all the changes that have emerged from that, but also, the substantial growth and achievements that the companies, organizations, our collaborators, and the PEI BioAlliance are leading.
It was the foresight of our bioscience community founders in 2005 that has placed us in a much stronger position today. They made talent a priority from day one. There are bioscience communities in this country that are only making it a priority today. Just think: PEI is 17 years ahead of the rest of the country. And we haven’t stopped looking ahead and taking action. This is the advantage of being small and nimble. This is what it’s like when a community pulls in the same direction. This is what it feels like to break barriers and drive growth.
Each one of us has played a part in driving that growth and we can’t let up. The race for talent is in full swing. We are not just competing with businesses down the street, we compete nationally and internationally. We also can’t expect to pick talent off the shelf. We have to provide opportunities for talent to grow. And PEI is good at growing things!
The pandemic shone a light on the workplace and exposed cracks. Restrictions put pressure on people, families, organizations and communities and it caused people to reevaluate their priorities.
Allowance for virtual work gave people the opportunity to make decisions about where they wanted to live and work like never before. Atlantic Canada came out strong, but the situation is presenting us with new challenges. The advantages that we once relished like available housing at a good price, a lower cost of living…those are disappearing. If we lose that part of our competitive edge, what do we have left to compete on? How are we going to attract and retain talent?
This is the world in which we are launching our latest HR strategy. A strategy should be a living, breathing document. It should set a direction with key priorities, but it must offer a mechanism to bring in new information and new ideas to challenge us, to make sure we are still getting it right one year from now, three years from now.
In setting our own path, we can influence change and capture opportunities, but it comes with risk. We don’t have a choice. We have to be out front, acting with a belief in ourselves that we never before thought was possible.
We all have a stake in making this strategy work.
Let’s focus first on achievements, the impact and result of partnerships:
- People were advised to connect with me to find out about bioscience jobs.
- Job seekers were encouraged to apply for jobs.
- Employers invested in leadership, work culture, salary and benefits, and offered training to build an organization to attract good talent and keep people.
- Post-secondary education and training helped to educate or upskill people so they could find their first job in bioscience.
- There was help to access funding.
- Some hosted or sponsored a summer camp to ignite a child’s interest in science.
- Startup company mentorship was arranged.
- Financing and building infrastructure to help companies grow was implemented.
- People went out of their way to help a newcomer to PEI feel at home here.
- Stories were told about the people working in bioscience.
Many small, big, and mighty actions have been taken that make a huge difference. We have to keep taking actions to ensure that we remain competitive. Get people talking about what’s going on here. Because on PEI that is our most powerful form of promotion. Make sure our good stories are told. Let’s make our actions count.
Here are some of the highlights since our last strategy launch five years ago:
- We are up to 60 companies from 43.
- We have 800 more employees working in the bioscience community with a total of more than 2,200 employees to date.
- Now six of our companies have more than 100 employees, which is up from three.
- We advertise 350 jobs annually, up from 100.
- Two of our companies are now top employers in Canada.
- We launched a national initiative to skill, upskill, and reskill talent to work in bioscience with the Canadian Alliance for Skills and Training (CASTL).
- Post-secondary partners expanded programs.
- During the pandemic, we came together as a community to have weekly huddles to help each other with challenges.
- We carried out a retention study to see how we measure up and to find ways we can improve on holding on to vital talent.
- Government partners continued to recognize the potential in bioscience and to work alongside us to build for the future.
Thank you to all who collaborated on these achievements.
Now for the way forward
As you read through the plan, you will see many activities focused on improving recruitment, retention, HR excellence, training, and community outreach.
Our focus is on the new, key initiatives that address the times we find ourselves in, to attract and retain talent like never before.
We are establishing an HR Excellence Initiative
We are ramping up our HR Working Group to focus on a much broader scope to embrace the latest HR best practices, with the goal of building the attraction and retention of talent in order to remain competitive in the bioscience labour market. We need to set ourselves apart as a leading example of a cluster-focused approach to building talent.
We will develop a strategy for the HR Excellence Initiative to show the scope of our vision and activities which will have an internal and an external focus.
Within the community, we will commit to HR excellence with vision and mission statements that companies prioritize. We will research, watch trends, and maybe create trends. We will identify talent building models that will best fit our community. We will pilot ideas. We will access HR-focused professional development.
We will promote and offer examples of our commitment to HR excellence, show how we are leading, highlight our achievements and values, how people are making a difference, innovative approaches to building and retaining talent, commitment to building the next generation of talent, embracing newcomer and minority communities, and walking the talk on EDI practices.
Excellent examples of HR practices already exist that can get us started like our top recognized employers and creative approaches that startups are adapting to building strong teams – and values-driven growth. We need to stand out as a community, striving, and innovating on our approach to HR.
We will create an HR Essentials Package
We will develop a foundational HR package based on HR excellence research which can be customized for companies in their early stages and will set them up for success as they build their teams. They will have access to ongoing support to ensure these essentials are being integrated and regularly measured for success.
We will carry out a Compensation Study
We will conduct a compensation strategy to ensure we are competitive among the bioscience-centric regions where we are looking for talent; e.g. Atlantic Canada, Montreal, Toronto, and the Northeastern US. Talent is more mobile. Salaries and benefits have spiked in response to talent shortages and companies need to compete for talent and retain good people. We need to know how we are measuring up and in as real-time as possible.
We will develop an HR Communications Strategy
We will build a strategy that highlights our initiatives and activities around HR excellence, our development and adoption of HR essentials, stories about companies – e.g., how they are making a difference, their values & missions, career profiles, shining star examples, a spotlight on youth success, and how rural-based companies are finding an edge.
This strategy will also encompass proposed events that highlight careers, examples of success and HR best practices.
How success takes place
A huge part of our success has been in the collaborations that we have with community organizations, educational institutions, and government partners. I ask you to read through the strategy and see where we can connect on mutual goals. Set up a meeting with me and let’s discuss how we can work together.
My message is always the same. Anything is possible, so let’s try something. It doesn’t always have to be large initiatives; it can be smaller actions where we can collaborate on mutual goals.
Now that things are opening up in terms of restrictions, I look forward to us hosting regular networking events. Our coming together is essential to maintain strong working relationships. Small, impromptu conversations spawn creative ideas. Our bionetworking events were excellent opportunities for job seekers and students to meet with company representatives. A conversation could open a door.
When job seekers come to speak with me, I ask what kind of company they wish to work for. The common answer is – they are seeking a place to work that matches their values, where they feel they are making a contribution. A place where they will be valued and supported. Be that company. Let’s strive to be the cluster where companies are examples of HR Excellence.
Since the pandemic began, we have spoken more openly about mental health. Let’s keep talking about it.
We have taken greater action on inclusion. Let’s do more. Diversity of people and ideas drives innovation. Many newcomers to PEI have excellent experience and education. We must continue to find ways to help people feel at home here, help bridge any gaps to employment, and invite contribution.
Hire students. We must invest in our next generation of talent. What we are building now as a community will benefit subsequent generations. And that starts with the student who reaches out to you for employment. Don’t let them down. Reward their initiative. Give them a start, using a funding program to hire them.
The Strategy also speaks to the importance of building public awareness and understanding of bioscience career paths through early engagement with junior high and high schools, an increased digital presence, and local community partnerships such as STEAM PEI and 4-H.
Until recently, there has been limited dedicated bioscience skills and training capacity in the biomanufacturing sector in Atlantic Canada. To address the talent gap, PEI BioAlliance launched the Canadian Alliance for Skills and Training in Life Sciences (CASTL) in 2020. The initiative is focused on new skilling, upskilling, and reskilling talent for the bioscience sector across Canada, with particular emphasis on biopharmaceutical manufacturing.
BIOVECTRA, one of the anchor companies in PEI’s bioscience sector, is widening its search for talented professionals. “Our workforce is growing because our company is expanding into mRNA vaccine and therapeutics, so we need talent from a variety of professions,” says Lester Wood, Vice President of People and Culture at BIOVECTRA.
“As we recruit our future workforce, CASTL learning is one of the value-added experiences we can offer as an employer to attract talent who want to grow their knowledge and develop hands-on skills for a bright future in life sciences.”
Other PEI bioscience companies are also expanding and adding jobs. Over 50 percent of our bioscience companies have advertised positions in the past year. We have established a well-targeted audience of more than 5,000 contacts (up 73 percent since 2015). We consistently attract new contacts to our community/career news audience from across Canada and internationally.
Let’s keep pulling in the same direction.
Breaking barriers and driving growth.
About the PEI BioAlliance
Since 2005, the PEI BioAlliance has coordinated the development and growth of the province’s bioscience cluster and established the conditions for business success. The cluster creates high-quality, Island-based jobs in the areas of human, animal, and fish health and nutrition.
The PEI BioAlliance is a partnership of 60 businesses, academic and research institutions, and federal and provincial government agencies, dedicated to establishing the bioscience sector as a key pillar in the economic foundation of the province and Atlantic Canada.