Motivating teenagers and getting them interested in anything other than their phones is not easy.
But one model that seems to work is We Day — an inspirational event that encourages youth to shift their thinking from “me” to “we.”
That’s why Farm Credit Canada and Agriculture in the Classroom (AITC) Canada are launching a new initiative that will mimic the flash and passion of We Day.
The initiative, called engAGe, will show students that there’s more to agriculture than crops and cows.
“We are trying, like everybody else, to find the winning equation to get students curious about a career in agri-food,” said Johanne Ross, executive director of AITC-Canada.
“We wanted an event where we could bring a group of high school students together in one place that was full of flash and energy and great stories and inspirations and connection to where our food comes from.”
AITC-Canada and its provincial partners plan to host three engAGe events this fall and winter in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.
About 1,500 high school students are expected to attend the events, which will feature speakers, hands-on experiences and food.
“Whether it’s science, technology, marketing or retail, agriculture is a great connector for people in a variety of fields,” said Michael Hoffort, president and chief executive officer of FCC, the main sponsor for the events. “At FCC we look forward to what the next generation brings to agriculture and engAGe is a perfect place to ignite that interest.”
The events are planned as flashy, high-tech and fast-paced because teenagers live in a fast-paced, high tech world, Ross said.
“With the high school demographic, you need to have something that is high energy… and experiential. This is the world we live in.”
There will be speeches, but they will be brief and energetic.
Some of the speakers at the Toronto event include Andrew Campbell, a dairy farmer in Ontario, Cherilyn Nagel, a grain producer from Mossbank, Sask., and Juliette Powell, a futurist and TV host.
Events like engAGe are critical because Canada’s agri-food industry is desperately short of workers and the shortage may soon become a full-blown crisis.
By 2029, the labour deficit in Canadian agriculture could reach 123,000 workers, the Canadian Agriculture Human Resource Council said in June.
However, if the industry and government can resolve those issues, Canada could become an agri-food powerhouse.
“With the correct skills mix, agriculture could add another $11 billion to Canada’s GDP (gross domestic product) and make the sector more productive than auto manufacturing and aerospace combined,” said RBC Royal Bank in Farmer 4.0, a report released in late August.
The engAGe events held in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver could be the start of something much bigger. Ross hopes it will become a high demand event across Canada, with schools on a waiting list to get in.
For this year, Ross wants students to leave engAGe events with a positive feeling about agriculture.
“Similar to We Day, we want to create this energy that leaves the building. It’s almost like a call to action for these students,” she said.
“Maybe I can make a difference … help feed the world.