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Ag needs skilled workers

Ag needs skilled workers

Will the immigration pilot scratch that itch?


By Jonathan Martin
Staff Writer

The newly-announced Agri-Food Immigration Pilot is looking to address a problem producers have long-vocalized.

Last year, Canadian farmers lost almost C$3 billion because they couldn’t find enough workers. That number nearly doubles the lost income they reported in 2014, the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) said in its 10-year market forecast.

CAHRC develops industy-specific “labour market intelligence about workforce requirements today and into the future,” Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst told in a July 11 interview. She’s the executive director of the CAHRC. “In the past, there used to be enough farm children to sustain operations, but that’s not true any longer.”

Farms are increasing in size and scope, which means they need more hands to manage them, MacDonald-Dewhirst added.

“And the children of farm families are less interested in pursuing work on the farm,” she said. “In addition, our population in rural Canada is not growing at the same speed as the industry.”

AgCareers’ 2019 Agribusiness HR Review suggests that the number of vacancies will continue to grow (AgCareers is a company). Almost 60 per cent of agribusiness owners surveyed said they hope to expand their workforce over the next two years, but also listed talent acquisition as their top human resources concern.

Almost 40 per cent also said that those who do apply aren’t qualified for the job. Lack of skills was the most commonly listed reason for recruiting difficulty.

“I don’t think the number of applicants is always the top concern,” Rachel Powell told She’s one of AgCareers data analysts and helped put together the Agribusiness HR Review. “Technical positions showed up as some of the top roles that are most difficult to fill.”

The Agri-Food Immigration Pilot is designed to attract skilled workers “who support the ongoing labour needs of the agri-food sector,” a government backgrounder says.

In particular, it notes that candidates must have

  • One year of full-time, non-seasonal Canadian work experience in the temporary foreign worker program in an ag field related to the project
  • Achieved a level four in either English or French through the Canadian language benchmark standard
  • At least a high-school education

Whether or not it actually scratches the skilled-labour itch remains to be seen.

The pilot project will accept up to 2,750 workers and their families per year. In 2014, ag needed 26,000 people to fill its vacant positions.

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