Emily Dewar, a student in the Holland College Bioscience Technology program, masters skills directly related to P.E.I.’s bioscience sector which generates over $120 million in private sector revenue and employs more than 1200 people.
By Margaret Magner
Special to The Guardian
Gaining a unique competitive advantage in today’s complex employment market is crucial to students seeking meaningful, well-paying jobs. And for many young Islanders, the ideal outcome is to secure that job in Prince Edward Island.
With that in mind, Ellen Crane, Josh Jarvis, Kate Publicover and others interested in bioscience careers have gravitated toward the Bioscience Technology program at Holland College.
The college’s most recent statistics — indicating 100 per cent of graduates are employed one year after graduation, with 91 per cent in jobs directly or indirectly related to this program — demonstrate these students’ interests are not only informed, but inspired.
The program’s graduates master scientific theory and hands-on laboratory experience — related to pharmaceuticals; natural health products; and environment, food and agricultural sciences — preparing for careers in bioscience research or a biotech-based manufacturing or production facility.
Its applicants seek to upgrade their skills midcareer, enhance a university degree, or pursue employment opportunities in the Island’s expanding bioscience sector which eagerly recruits biotechnologists and technicians to support its needs.
Students bring varied ambitions to the program.
Josh Jarvis, once a Souris mussel farmer, sought full-time employment year round and felt “capable of more than labour work all my life.” He now enjoys a career as a fermentation technician for BioVectra Inc.
Kate Publicover, a current bioscience technology student from Stratford, has a university degree but wanted the additional hands-on experience of Holland College graduates.
“Bioscience companies have a huge interest in the Bioscience Technology program,” she says. “I’m hoping with my diploma and degree combined, they’ll consider me over other candidates.”
Ellen Crane from Cardigan, a recent graduate, is pursuing a M.Sc. in animal science from Dalhousie University.
“The Holland College program inspired me to go further in my research with skills I wouldn’t have received solely from a university education.”
Program learning managers Dr. Michael Gibson and Dr. Jennifer Slemmer understand the needs of students, ensuring they acquire the most relevant expertise. As faculty, they’re in constant communication with the companies who hire their students and are invested in the success of the program.
Dr. Jason Cleaversmith, head of Aqua Health, P.E.I. at Novartis Animal Health, has been a member of the program’s advisory panel since its inception. His company hires its graduates and participates in highly valued on-the-job training.
“The proof is in the pudding,” he said. “They’re the ones getting jobs across all our functions — R&D, technical operations, and quality control — which points to their adaptability and broad technical capabilities.”
Cleaversmith understands the program’s role in developing a talented, capable workforce locally to meet companies’ needs and help grow their presence in P.E.I..
“You won’t find another program like this in the Atlantic Provinces. As it grows, it will attract more-and-more applicants, not just locally, but off-Island.”
Dr. Russell Kerr, Canada research chair in marine natural products at UPEI and CEO of Nautilus Biosciences Canada Inc., is also a program advisor. He employs five biotechnologist graduates because of their distinctive ability “to function superbly as a team.”
As chair of the P.E.I. BioAlliance, Kerr is also mindful of the program’s recently upgraded technology and renovations, the result of $360,000 in funding from ACOA and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). Holland College’s new applied research suite will offer students and faculty state-of-the-art technology and the opportunity to work on real-life projects, while providing expertise, equipment and space to private companies and college-industry collaboration.
“It’s another recruitment tool to attract bioscience companies to P.E.I., particularly smaller companies that often lack extensive equipment,” says Kerr. “This willingness to promote relationships between research scientists and business owners is a unique aspect of the P.E.I. Bioscience Cluster, and will certainly benefit students in the process.”
That’s good news for graduates like Ellen Crane.
“For anyone considering the Bioscience Technology Program, the bioscience sector is one of the fastest growing industries in P.E.I.. The program will give you the skills you need to have your resume noticed by potential employers,” she says. “The jobs are waiting for you”.
Margaret Magner, Ph.D., is a freelance journalist in Charlottetown (www.magnerink.com). This is one in a series of articles on P.E.I.’s bioscience sector.