Internship program boosts P.E.I.'s high-tech sector

Mukhayyo Sultanova is a UPEI master's student in biology and a Mitacs intern with BioVectra.    (Shane Hennessey/CBC  - image credit)
Mukhayyo Sultanova is a UPEI master's student in biology and a Mitacs intern with BioVectra. (Shane Hennessey/CBC - image credit)

P.E.I.'s high-tech sector is getting a boost from an internship program called Mitacs.

The not-for-profit innovation organization helps Canadian companies find specialized talent in the academic sector, and creates internship opportunities in industries including clean tech, agri-food and bioscience.

Tash Ismail, chief business development officer at Mitacs, said the internships on P.E.I. help Island companies stay competitive in a fast-moving sector.

"Businesses out there, industry out there, are dealing with immense global competitiveness. The pace of change, of knowledge, of information, is extremely rapid," Ismail said.

"Organizations find it very difficult to build and grow the talent that they need to keep up internally."

Mitacs
Mitacs

"What Mitacs does is we go out there, we find the specialized talent that will be very difficult for individual organizations to source, and we connect that talent into that organization."

Mitacs has agreements with 28 countries and 81 academic institutions, which Ismail said allows them to connect with a large pool of talent.

Talent matching

Ismail said Mitacs works with organizations of all sizes, ranging from new businesses such as P.E.I company Upcycle Green Technology, to larger institutions, such as BioVectra, which has 600 employees.

She described Mitacs as "connectors" between the academic world and industry — able to give interns valuable experience in the real world.

Interns' feedback is that they find this experience life-changing in terms of their career growth.
—Tash Ismail, chief business development officer at Mitacs

"While you're studying, while you're doing your postdoc or your master's, you're actually able to grow feelers on what industry needs, which is often quite different," Ismail said.

"It also allows a lot of students to take the research work that they're doing and make it practical, so it doesn't end up as a research paper, or something very theoretical that sits on a shelf."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

Ismail said the internships also help retain students who may otherwise leave P.E.I. after university or college.

"They also will start out with higher salaries, they'll start out with finding jobs a lot more easily, because they've also been able to build those networks outside of academia," Ismail said.

"We see that interns' feedback is that they find this experience life-changing in terms of their career growth, and the opportunities that they're able to find after."

Next generation

Charlottetown-based pharmaceutical company, BioVectra, has Mitacs internships starting with summer students. Some have continued on to have full-time careers with the company.

"The student gets an opportunity to get to know what life and industry might look like, and whether this is a possible career path for them in the future," said Marc Sauer, chief science officer at BioVectra.

"That's one of the most important aspects of the entire program because, at the end of the day, the goal is to develop the next generation of scientific talent in Canada."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

For Mukhayyo Sultanova, a UPEI master's student in biology, the Mitacs internship at BioVectra has been "an eye-opener."

"It's a really big thing in my opinion, it's a really cool idea where you bring in industry-level scientists together with young researchers who are still at university and don't really know how to apply it into the world,"

"It was eye-opening because I didn't really know that industry level will be working with the youth at the university level."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

The industry partners also benefit from the matching funding that Mitacs provides, through support it receives from the provincial and federal governments.

Recently, Innovation P.E.I. announced it has almost doubled their funding for Mitacs, to $200,000 per year for the next two years. Mitacs also received federal funding of $708 million in the 2021 budget.