Operating context: conditions affecting our work (2021-22)

This page is part of the 2021-22 Departmental Results Report

In 2021‑22, most countries around the world faced economic challenges as a result of the ongoing pandemic and Russian invasion of Ukraine, including rising inflation, supply chain disruptions, cyber-attacks and a growing labour shortage. The uneven economic recovery from the pandemic has deepened national and international divisions at a time when threats – including climate change – are increasingly global in scale.

The pandemic highlighted Canada's dependency on foreign imports for critical health care supplies and the limitations of domestic production capabilities. Science and technology played a key role in helping to slow the virus, secure a longer-term resolution for the pandemic and improve access to healthcare for vulnerable populations. The NRC made numerous contributions to this cause, including supporting the development of life-saving vaccines, increasing Canada's biomanufacturing capacity, testing the effectiveness of personal protective equipment, and leveraging nanotechnology to enable swift diagnosis of illness. At the same time, non‑pandemic‑focused research and development continued. In a world where innovation is the new arms race, emerging technologies are redefining the ways in which Canada and other countries do business.

The NRC continues to focus on key challenges facing Canada and the world, including an aging population, cybercrime and climate change. With industries undergoing digital transformations at an accelerated rate, the need for enhanced cyber security capabilities has become increasingly prominent. The impacts of climate change in Canada are also becoming more pronounced, with extreme heat, wildfires, floods, and severe storms increasing in frequency and intensity. Canada has demonstrated its commitment to doing its part in the global effort to combat climate change, which includes the NRC's continued delivery of initiatives targeting clean technologies and sustainable alternatives.

Immigration accounts for almost 100% of Canada's labour force growth. In 2021, Canada rebounded from restrictions and delays of the COVID-19 pandemic by admitting the most immigrants in a single year in its history. Equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the workplace remains an opportunity for Canada to increase productivity and fill skills gaps, but hiring and retention rates remain low for underrepresented groups. The NRC has taken steps to address this by developing a new EDI strategy designed to remove barriers for new applicants and enable successful career progression.

The NRC shifted the majority of its employees to work remotely at the onset of the global pandemic and limited onsite capacity in response to public health measures to protect the health and safety of employees; however, unlike many federal organizations, NRC technical and scientific staff returned to laboratories rapidly under strict health and safety protocols to be able to continue important research for clients and collaborators. While this shift presented a risk to the NRC's ability to deliver on its research objectives, it also presented an opportunity to rethink the future of the workplace and prompted the development of NRC's modernized Telework Policy. New flexible work arrangements could have a significant role to play in the NRC's ability to attract and retain a highly skilled workforce, especially in an increasingly tight labour market.

Traditional research practices, along with the methods by which results are produced and delivered are shifting. Canada is among the leaders in making government data open to the public, and the volume and impact of its scientific research output is strong. However, Canada's comparatively low investment in R&D and lacklustre innovation performance will need to be addressed if it hopes to grow domestic companies into global champions and remain at the forefront of world-leading research and development. For the NRC, there is an opportunity to leverage its strengths and collaborate with both domestic and international innovators to help Canada address current and future global challenges, including NRC IRAP support to Canadian businesses seeking revenue-generating IP and subsidized R&D funding.