The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the University of Guelph collaborate to advance the next generation of scientists

Dr. Elie Chamoun

Students know best how daunting it is to kick-start a career after graduation. For those educated in science, looking for the right place to apply their talent and skills is an exciting yet sometimes difficult endeavour. This challenge is magnified by having to decide between a vast array of science jobs on the market: industry, academia, consulting, and government. In the competitive job market of the 21st century, it takes a proactive and innovative employer to convey to students that their competencies are valued and sought after.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is a top employer of students trained in a variety of science disciplines, including biology, chemistry, epidemiology, veterinary science, among others. The CFIA has a network of 13 research and diagnostics laboratories across Canada. With a combined wealth of expertise in animal and plant health, foreign animal diseases and food safety, the laboratories provide the scientific knowledge needed to inform a regulatory and risk-based approach to keeping Canada's plants, animals and food safe.

The CFIA recognizes the immense range of talent among Canadian science graduates and is committed to recruiting students who study subjects that are vital to its work in the federal public service. With this commitment, the CFIA has exceeded its annual target of recruiting 300 students per year for two years in a row.

The CFIA’s commitment to science student recruitment was exemplified by co-organizing a November 2018 event that hosted over 100 University of Guelph (U of G) students in a visit to Ottawa. In recognition of the challenges that students face when looking for a new job, the CFIA and other Government of Canada departments partnered with U of G to provide a forum for students to learn about careers in the public service and network with potential employers.

At the event, students were welcomed by the CFIA’s Executive Vice President, France Pégeot, who discussed the benefits of a career in the public service. Following her remarks, federal public servants from the CFIA, Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and other government organizations gave seminars about their careers. Throughout the event, extensive networking and discussion occurred between students and employees, including CFIA staff that ranged from senior management, our Chief Science Operating Officer, research scientists, technical laboratory staff and science analysts. Speakers discussed their educational backgrounds, career paths and how they entered into the public service. CFIA scientific staff also conveyed a deep passion for their specific roles and for public service altogether. As a result, the students gained insight into the rewarding aspect of working in government and dedicating their careers to improving life for Canadians. The U of G student trip to Ottawa achieved its objectives: students networked, developed relationships, gained new contacts, learned about the different government organizations and learned about the breadth of science-based career opportunities at the CFIA.

The success of the CFIA’s engagement with U of G and recruitment is also reflected in the multitude of alumni employed by the federal government. By fostering a work environment that attracts, retains and utilizes talent, the CFIA supports opportunities for science students to develop work skills and experience through meaningful assignments. As a former U of G student who attended the outreach trip to Ottawa in 2017 and a current CFIA employee, I can attest that the partnership between U of G and the CFIA is truly one that cultivates opportunities for students in science. I believe students can leverage this partnership by initiating and maintaining contacts within the Government of Canada. When it comes to awareness of government opportunities and the likelihood of being considered for a job, I am of the opinion that students who make themselves known will have greater success than those who pursue opportunities in isolation.

Ultimately, the federal science and technology community places a high value on evidence for sound decision making. As a result, I see the CFIA actively seeking the skills and talent of the next generation of scientists to help fulfill Agency priorities to the Government of Canada now and into the future.