Opinion: Student interns build innovation talent in Manitoba Leave a comment


John Hepburn

The message coming out of Budget 2023 is loud and clear: the future growth of Manitoba depends on creating new opportunities and continuing to attract skilled workers. Without these initiatives, future economic growth could be hampered by skill and labour shortages.


Expecting 114,000 new job openings over the next five years — 56 per cent of which will require post-secondary training — the province is already taking steps to fill hundreds of local jobs. For example, success has come from the government’s strategy to attract international workers, from Ukrainians fleeing the war to health-care professionals from the Philippines.

Closer to home, Manitoba’s college and university students are also keen to make an impact. The new generation of top talent coming out of our post-secondary institutions can help to solve the province’s labour challenges quickly and smoothly, while helping local businesses innovate and grow.

Experts agree innovation is key to growing a stronger economy, but it can be difficult to find the creative thinking and problem-solving skills required to make it happen. Young researchers at Manitoba’s world-class colleges and universities come to the table with fresh ideas, innovative solutions and razor-sharp skills that are ideally suited to giving high-potential companies a leg up when it comes to moving forward with their R&D and innovation goals. To accelerate this collaboration, targeted work placements allow students to gain high-quality work experience directly related to their academic programs and the opportunity to practise in-demand workplace skills as they prepare for full-time employment.

It’s a win-win: students gain confidence in the business skills they need to successfully launch their careers, such as communications, project management and leadership, and businesses gain the expert knowledge they require to remain competitive.

What’s more, it creates a clear retention path to keep these bright minds right here in Manitoba.

The benefits of tapping into our province’s young research talent pool are already evident. Over the past five years, more than 1,600 internships were brokered by Mitacs, a not-for-profit national innovation organization that empowers innovation through partnerships between post-secondary institutions, industry and other organizations to place students according to their highly specialized skills. During this time, 234 Manitoba businesses were able to advance critical innovation projects across a range of sectors, from health care and biosciences to cleantech.

By hiring research interns, for example, Topigs Norsvin, a leading swine genetics company, was able to improve the feed efficiency of their pigs and meet demands for lower carbon emissions. Similarly, startup QDoc is revolutionizing the delivery of healthcare services — as pressures on the system increase, QDoc’s cutting edge technology digitally connects patients to quality doctors — eliminating many barriers to access. Dave Berkowits, QDoc CoFounder and CTO reports: “One of our first employees at QDoc started out working on a Mitacs project. She now helps lead our team of developers, trains new staff, and is our primary contact for students engaged with ongoing Mitacs projects. This funding has helped QDoc recruit new talent and complete innovative projects.”

Studies conducted by McKinsey & Co., Harvard Business Review and others over the course of multiple recessions show that continuing to invest heavily in R&D during an economic downturn pays off. A notable example is how brands such as Apple, Groupon, Lego and Netflix thrived because they dared to invest in new directions. More recently, during the COVID-19 pandemic we saw that companies that rapidly pivoted to respond to changes in customer behaviour and the need for new offerings were clear winners.

In the face of Manitoba’s labour shortage, companies can find even more growth opportunities for students that simultaneously address their most crucial R&D challenges. Ramping up innovation internships can happen quickly, but it will take all stakeholders — government, industry and academia — coming together with a shared vision of what’s possible.

Internships are key to bridging local innovation talent with industry and are part of Manitoba’s overall economic strategy.

John Hepburn is CEO of Mitacs, a national innovation organization that helps solve business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions.



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