The careers fair at the Biotechnology Industry Organization's annual meeting in Toronto last week played host to twice as many jobseekers — about 5,000 — as its predecessor in San Diego last year. But does this mean that there are twice as many people unemployed in biotechnology this year? There are no easy answers or indicators, says Ian King, who helped to organize both meetings. In fact, there are several confounding factors.
First is the meeting's location. Although the conference is international, Toronto managed to draw a disproportionate number of Canadian scientists, King says. And those scientists might have had a ready appetite for such fairs, which are de rigueur in the United States, but still novel to the north.
The second factor is political circumstances. Last year's meeting occurred in the midst of a series of protests against the World Trade Organization, which also encompassed biotechnology and genetically modified organisms. As a result, the venue for last year's careers fair was changed, and attendees had to be bussed in — which must have reduced the number of attendees in San Diego.
Finally, there are the employers. Although Toronto saw about the same number of organizations represented compared to last year, their composition was different. The San Diego meeting boasted more companies, whereas Toronto drew more government organizations.
If there is any trend to be identified, it might be that of seeking stability — people this year queued up for more established companies and for government positions, rather than for riskier young companies, says King. To that extent, at least, the fair may be a sign of the times.