Workers unaware of ag job benefits

OTTAWA — Agriculture has to do a better job of enticing people to work in the industry and should be recruiting people at a younger age if it wants Canadians to fill the roles, says a Conference Board of Canada economist.

But it’s more likely that temporary foreign workers and immigrants will have to take the jobs, at least in the short term.

Data presented at the AgriWorkforce Roundtable, held by the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council, confirmed that vacancies are high and Canadians generally don’t want to move from urban areas to fill them.

However, the conference board’s Todd Crawford said many are unaware of the benefits of working in the industry.

“It’s actually a misconception now that all the jobs in agriculture are hard work for low pay,” he said in an interview. “In fact there’s many occupations, as we’re starting to engage in 21st century farming in Canada, where you have equipment operators, you have drone operators, you have big data people that are crunching information, top rate scientists looking at best farming practices. We need to start communicating these things more frequently and to people at an earlier age in their careers so they see agriculture as a potential career path.”

Merv Wiseman from the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Agriculture said this isn’t a new problem.

“I’m surprised and concerned that there’s no really coherent and discernible plan to deal with it,” he said.

Casey Vander Ploeg from the National Cattle Feeders Association said agriculture is the canary in the coalmine for the entire Canadian economy as the baby boomer generation retires.

“No government in the country …has undertaken a serious look at planning for that and how the Canadian economy is going to handle it,” he said.

Vander Ploeg said Canadians have forgotten that the country’s economic heartbeat is still in rural Canada in agriculture, oil and gas, mining, forestry and fishing.

Others pointed out that housing in rural Canada is cheaper while wages and benefits are competitive.

Stuart Cullum, president of Olds College in Olds, Alta., said that three new programs are in the works that might help attract technology-minded students. They will focus on technology integration, precision agriculture techgronomy and digital agriculture.

New agricultural workers will need soft skills of collaboration, communication and customer service, along with technological skills and basic natural sciences, he said.

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