Key to tackling future crises is to have a workforce ready for careers in science, technology, engineering and math

Key to tackling future crises is to have a workforce ready for careers in science, technology, engineering and math
The COVID pandemic has taught us that the most effective strategy to managing a crisis is planning well in advance of a problem arriving at our doorstep. Life-sciences innovation, research, development and manufacturing investments are helpful, but, without the right people, Canada continues to move at a glacial pace to get ready for the next pandemic. We’re risking our future simply because we are not taking a long-term outlook towards our talent pipeline.

For too long, many of our young students have been at a disadvantage when it comes to quality, hands-on learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Despite its importance to future innovation in our country, more than half of our students still graduate from high school without a senior level math and/or science credit, .

The pandemic has only made the challenge worse, with the shift to virtual learning worsening challenges for all students, including those who have access to resources and support. As a scientist and working mother supporting three children through remote learning over the last year, I can attest to these challenges. Parents and educators alike are concerned our children are falling behind.

The pandemic has also led many women, including in STEM fields, to leave the workforce at accelerated rates. Nearly six per cent of women in the Canadian workforce left their jobs within the first two months of COVID-19 being declared a global pandemic. That trend is eroding much of the progress we’ve made in the past and is taking important mentors and role models out of our pipeline. And, it’s not just women we’re losing. Biotechnology and life-sciences employers have .

We need a robust, long-term and resilient life-sciences strategy to foster talent early and keep our best and brightest thinkers from leaving for other markets. To do this, we need a predictable and supportive regulatory and policy environment so Canada can compete on the global stage, retain talent, and remain an attractive place to invest for life-sciences companies. This action will make a world of difference, not only to our communities, but to the sustainability of our life-sciences ecosystem and overall health care of Canadians.

The value to Canada’s economy can’t be overlooked. Research and development in the pharmaceutical sector alone already contribute $15 billion and 100,000 full-time jobs to Canada’s economy. Imagine what we could do if we had even more Canadians entering STEM fields, pursuing their careers and dreams right here in Canada.

Non-profit organizations, governments and the private sector are taking steps to help bridge these gaps. Sanofi Canada’s new Biogenius Grant Program, for example, is helping to provide better access to hands-on STEM learning for Canadian public high schools in rural and diverse populations by funding learning and outfitting schools in need with up-to-date equipment. In the private sector, companies like Best Buy Canada and Samsung Canada are coming together to provide similar grants and custom-curated technology packages to enhance STEM programs within our country’s elementary schools.

While it’s key to invest in domestic biomanufacturing capabilities like the $925-million shared investment with Sanofi Canada in a new, state-of-the-art vaccine manufacturing facility in Toronto, there is more work to do to make sure we have the right people to lead the critical initiatives and groundbreaking innovations we have ahead of us.

Now is the time for our industry and governments to stand up and make meaningful investments in STEM equity and education. What we do now will impact the future of innovation and health care, and support a diverse, inclusive and prosperous workforce for the next generation. After all, our actions now, and our investment in our greatest asset, our people, will make the difference in having Canada successfully navigate the next big crisis.
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