Canada’s agriculture and agri-food industry offers high-quality career options with competitive wages, but employers still find it challenging to attract and keep the workers they need. In fact, Farm Credit Canada has identified the agriculture worker shortage as one of the greatest risks facing growers today and into the future.
Sod production is extremely time sensitive, involving intensive work with long hours, when the weather permits. Employment on a sod farm does not always offer the permanent job most Canadians are looking for – it is seasonal. And the work is in the rural area. These challenges make it extremely difficult to find workers.
Other reasons for these labour issues, include: a lack of awareness about the industry’s employment opportunities, a lack of information about the industry’s labour requirements, and a lack of tools and resources to support farm employers in hiring and managing workers effectively.
While these are complex matters with no quick fixes, the Canadian Nursery and Landscape Association in partnership with the Canadian Agricultural HR Council, a national, non-profit organization, are working together to address human resource issues facing agricultural businesses across Canada.
Taking action on labour shortages
One of the issues facing Canada’s agriculture industry is the lack of information about the state of the workforce. Without knowing what the issues are or how they impact the industry, it’s hard to find the right way forward.
In response to this need, CAHRC launched a national Labour Market Information (LMI) initiative. The LMI project clarifies the current agricultural labour market and forecasts future labour supply and demand provincially, nationally and by commodity. The project has received extensive input from the agriculture industry.
While the LMI is clarifying these workforce needs, the Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Workforce Action Plan (WAP) is providing a roadmap to help Canada’s agricultural employers attract and train the workforce it needs to thrive. The Workforce Action Plan is a collaborative effort involving industry representatives from every sector, and many associations are involved in the initiative. The plan includes a range of action items focused on increasing the supply of both high-skilled and low-skilled workers, ensuring continued access to international agriculture workers, and enhancing worker knowledge and skills.
Developing tools for employers
CAHRC is working with sod growers from across Canada to develop the National Agricultural Occupational Framework (NAOF). The NAOF is an ambitious project to collect in-depth information directly from agricultural business owners, employees, associations, and educators across Canada to identify the skills and experience needed for 40 key agricultural roles. The resulting Sod National Occupational Standards (NOSs) will define the scope of tasks associated with a specific occupation as well as the knowledge and skills workers must possess to be competent on the job.
The NOSs are important in building a collection of hiring and management tools that support growers in finding, training, and retaining workers. Tools will include industry-validated job descriptions, worker assessments, training requirements and resources, customizable job ads, interview guides, online learning resources, and a nation-wide job board for agricultural jobs.
“Together, CAHRC and the CNLA are creating a more sustainable future for CNLA members by strengthening the agricultural workforce. Working together we are addressing the labour issue and working on solutions for our industry.” -Victor Santacruz, Canadian Nursery and Landscape Association
Connecting education and training
Together, the LMI, WAP and the NAOF will help academic institutions develop courses and programs that support the needs of various agricultural sectors. The LMI and WAP are identifying existing skill gaps and areas of emerging need in different commodities for the agriculture sector, while the detailed NOSs included in the NAOF articulate the specific skills and knowledge requirements necessary to build curriculum that meet industry needs. By mapping supporting curriculum to specific skills, schools can align their training programs to workplace needs and ensure graduates are better prepared. In addition, employers will be able to assess workers against the NOS and access a variety of on-the-job or e-learning training options that CAHRC is building to address skill gaps.
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