Aboriginal program readies for new year

An agriculture course to help Aboriginals fill the skilled labour shortage will run for a second year beginning in February.

Parkland College and Inroads to Agriculture are recruiting students interested in crop production and farmers in the Yorkton, Sask., area willing to participate as employers and mentors.

Inroads to Agriculture is a Saskatchewan organization that helps Aboriginals acquire skills and employment in agriculture.

Darrell Landels, corporate training and community development manager at Parkland College, said the college is trying to meet the region’s labour needs with people already living in the area.

“The pool of people farmers would traditionally draw on for help is shrinking, including farm kids and people from rural areas,” Landels said.

“Farmers are telling us they understand they will have to look elsewhere to meet their labour needs, including people from urban areas, immigrants, and Aboriginal people.”

Murall Bird, project manager at Inroads to Agriculture, said eligible applicants must be of aboriginal decent, at least 18 years old, committed to seeking employment in the agricultural industry and have a class five driver’s licence.

The course is free.

“Parkland College’s directives really match what we want to achieve in our targets and activities,” Bird said. “It has been very seamless putting this together.”

Inroads provides students with a living allowance during in-class training, while farmers who accept trainees receive up to $200 a week per student.

Farmers are then responsible to pay students a wage, which will vary with the level of experience.

The 42-week course is based on Lakeland College’s agriculture program and will alternate between in-class and on-the-job training.

Class begins Feb. 19, and participants will take safety training and learn about western Canadian agriculture.

Topics include soil science, plant science, field crops, agronomy, tillage and seeding systems.

Students will have been trained on the maintenance and operation of seeding equipment, including application rates, by the time they are on their first employment placement in the spring.

Students return to class in Yorkton once seeding is finished and train for the spraying season by working toward a pesticide applicator certificate from the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology.

Students also return for in-class training before and after harvest. The course will include 18 weeks of in-class training and 24 weeks of on-the-job training.

Landels said farmers may be hesitant to allow industry newcomers to perform farming duties such as seeding and spraying because they require high degrees of precision and carry the most risk.

To ease these concerns, he added, the program tries to match students to the employment situation.

“It’s a judgment call with the farmer what duties they will be asked to do,” Landels said.

“But we want to make sure the employment experience is a good experience for the students and that it will provide them with the opportunity of on-the-job training and advancement in their career.”

The program is also offered this year through a distance delivery at Flying Dust First Nation, and Landels hopes to include more regions in the future.

“The idea is to grow this thing,” he said.

“The long-term vision is to be able to deliver it in other parts of the province by other regional colleges and eventually attach credit to it and offer it to whoever wants to attend.”

Parkland College is developing a second version of the class that focuses on livestock.

Inroads to Agriculture maintains close ties to One Earth Farms, one of the largest corporate farms in Canada, which manages farmland on reserves across the Prairies. Some students will likely be placed with the company this summer.

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