NRC to lay off 57 positions

National Research Council job eliminations include crop resource development and aquatic research

The National Research Council is in the middle of a nation-wide workforce adjustment process that will result in job losses at NRC locations across the country.

NRC officials confirmed Dec. 20 that 57 positions will be eliminated across the country, including six in Halifax, 20 in Quebec, 18 in Ontario, one in Winnipeg and eight in Saskatoon.

All of the affected jobs in Western Canada are scientific positions involving experts in aquatic research and crop resource development.

“To better support and meet the changing needs of Canada’s economy, the National Research Council of Canada is consolidating some of its programs and activities,” an NRC spokesperson said in an email.

“Implementing these decisions have affected approximately 57 employees located across the country and working in areas such as automotive and surface transportation, human health therapeutics, aquatic and crop resources development, and construction.”

Workforce changes at the council should be completed by late March.

Twenty-four of the positions fall within the NRC’s aquatic and crop resource development portfolio, which involves agricultural researchers.

Denise Leblanc, general manager of aquatic and crop resources development programming, said 10 positions will be affected in Saskatoon, including eight that will be eliminated.

The Saskatoon positions involve scientists with expertise in plant metabolism research and analytics and some that were previously involved in canola genomics and lipid research.

However, she said NRC operations in Saskatoon will retain significant expertise in the areas of oilseed and lipid research.

“From our perspective, we are maintaining a very strong oilseed lipid team in Saskatoon,” LeBlanc said.

“Some of the positions (affected) may have been involved in some of our previous projects in canola, but we’re maintaining a very strong oilseed lipid (team). That’s one of the strengths that we have in Saskatoon.”

Job losses will be partially offset at some NRC locations by the creation of new technical positions, which are expected to become available in 2014.

The NRC adopted a new operational model last year that encourages private sector investment and allows industry partners to collaborate with NRC scientists and shape NRC research programs.

The new model provides access to NRC expertise in exchange for funding by private sector partners and other industry stakeholders.

The NRC’s new approach was intended in part to reduce federal spending on NRC programming and transform the research council into an industry focused and industry inspired research and technology organization that tailors its activities to meet private sector needs.

Ottawa committed $121 million over two years to assist with the transition.

NRC president John McDougall said in May that he did not expect the NRC’s new model to have an immediate impact on staffing levels or budgets.

The NRC’s annual operating budget is generally $900 million to $1 billion, he said.

“We’re in the process of repointing the ship and after we get things repointed and we see how this new approach is playing out, I think that’s the time to have the conversations about (budgets),” McDougall said.

Historically, NRC has employed 4,000 people.

McDougall had said in May that the NRC’s total workforce was down from historical levels but staff numbers were expected to rebound as research priorities and programming evolved.

“Overall, our level has come down a little bit, but we would expect it to get back (to) about where it was,” McDougall said.

“The expectation is that we’ll probably see growth because we expect to see more industry participation.”

In Saskatoon, the NRC launched a $95 million program last year in conjunction with Agriculture Canada, the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre (CDC) and the Saskatchewan government known as the Canadian Wheat Alliance (CWA).

Funding included a $5 million monetary contribution from the province and in-kind contributions valued at $90 million from Agriculture Canada, the NRC and the CDC.

The objectives of the CWA are to improve wheat’s yield, sustainability and profitability.

The goals were to be accomplished by developing new breeding technologies and bioinformatics systems, creating new DNA markers and investigating key issues such as nutrient use efficiency and yield losses caused by drought, heat, cold and diseases.

An NRC official said employees affected by recent job cuts will have an opportunity to apply for new NRC positions that are being created.