Ontario’s agriculture and food industry is booming, with more job openings than qualified people to fill them, according to a new report commissioned by the University of Guelph’s Ontario Agricultural College (OAC).
The report provides a snapshot of hiring trends and demands in agriculture and food, based on a survey of more than 100 agri-food organizations in Ontario conducted by JRG Consulting Group.
“The agri-food sector has emerged as the single most important economic driver in the province,” said Rene Van Acker, OAC’s associate dean (external relations) and a plant agriculture professor.
“We felt it important to get an assessment of the sector’s human resource needs to ensure that we are providing enough graduates and that they have the skill sets necessary to meet the challenges of current and future jobs.
Ontario has the most diverse agri-food industry in Canada — producing more than 200 commodities — and the nation’s largest food processing industry, with more than 3,000 companies. Overall, the sector contributes more than $33 billion annually to Ontario’s gross domestic product and sustains more than 200,000 jobs.
The survey examined employer demand for college and university graduates – diploma, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral – for such positions as sales and marketing, production, and financial analysis and research.
The study found that industry demand far exceeded the supply of post-secondary graduates in agri-food in Ontario, where three jobs exist for every agriculture graduate with a bachelor’s degree.
Survey respondents expected a 10- to 20-per-cent increase in the number of new hires directly from university in the coming years, the study said.
“There are unmet needs in the agri-food sector in the number of students being trained at all levels in both agriculture and food programs,” Van Acker said.
“The sector is signalling that the requirement for OAC graduates is substantially larger than our current supply offering.”
Among the survey’s specific findings:
At the diploma level, industry requires about 500 new hires annually; OAC graduates about 400 diploma students each year.
At the bachelor's degree level, industry needs 250 to 330 new hires a year in agriculture and 50 to 90 in food processing. About 100 students graduate from OAC in agriculture and about 30 in food science each year.
At the graduate level, industry needs up to 100 positions a year; more than one-third of responding companies reported difficulty in finding qualified candidates.
The report said the agri-food sector looks for specific qualifications, including “soft skills” (communication, organization, teamwork) and relevant scientific knowledge and technical skills in areas such as crop science, animal science and genetics. Respondents said OAC grads measured up very well in these areas.
“The skills set aligns with the core strength of OAC in knowledge and formal training,” Van Acker said.
Source: University Of Guelph