Developing Talent for Canada’s Healthcare Future

Who will be face of the health care industry in the coming decades?  It’s likely that they are in elementary school now but its unclear whether they will leave high school with the science prerequisites needed for employment in the sector.

With the goal of spurring a national discussion about talent development as it relates to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning, Let’s Talk Science and Amgen Canada have partnered to develop the Spotlight on Science Learning report. We convened a national panel of experts to establish a suite of benchmarks that collectively can frame a picture of our national progress in nurturing STEM talent and whether it will match the employment needs that are forecast over the coming decades.

Within the health care sector, this project is especially timely as long-term human resource pressures loom large as the combined impact of an aging population and sector retirements are realized. The Spotlight on Science Learning report reveals that important gains have been made but it also underlines emerging challenges. As investments in postsecondary education have grown, more people are completing university and college programs but there is little change in the proportion of people who pursue STEM disciplines. At the high school level, a surprisingly high proportion of students graduate without the prerequisites required to pursue university-level science programs; fewer than half of Canadian high school students complete Grade 12 biology, approximately 30 per cent complete Grade 12 chemistry and fewer than 20 per cent complete Grade 12 physics. With so many youth closing doors prior to high school graduation, we are inevitably losing many young people who could excel in health care occupations. Research suggests that while high school students may see science as important for society, they do not perceive it as relevant to themselves and may not realize the breadth of career opportunities that are available with a STEM background.

To focus the discussion about talent development the expert panel established a suite of benchmarks that should be tracked over the next decade. Additionally, with the goal of improving youth participation in STEM that can lead to future improvements in the benchmarks, the panel offered several recommendations that include: start very early with STEM learning and foster young people’s curiosity throughout the school years by using inquiry-based experiential learning; connect the importance of STEM learning to jobs and make that information more readily available to youth and educators, and establish data management systems that will enable tracking of the benchmarks. The report ends with a collective call to action since talent development must be a national priority that includes many stakeholders such as youth, parents, schools, governments, industry and the not-for-profit sector.

For its part, my organization, Let’s Talk Science has worked to engage youth in science learning for nearly two decades. A national charitable organization that helps youth fulfill their potential through STEM learning experiences, Let’s Talk Science offers a variety of programs that address known barriers to youth engagement. Through our national outreach program, thousands of postsecondary and industry-based volunteers, half of whom are in the life and health sciences, work directly with youth as relevant and inspiring role models. CurioCity offers a unique web-based program to engage teens and Grades 8-12 educators and Wings of Discovery builds a strong foundation with its focus on very young learners and their educators.

What are you doing to develop Canada’s next generation of STEM talent? 

Bonnie Schmidt, Ph.D. is the Founder and President of Let’s Talk Science, a national charitable organization that is committed to youth development through science engagement. For more information, see www.letstalkscience.ca and www.explorecuriocity.org.  A Spotlight on Science Learning can be downloaded at www.letstalkscience.ca/spotlight.