By Tracey Arts, Director, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
We’re nearing the end of another school year and for Ontario students who are graduating from high school this year, a brand-new chapter awaits them in the fall. Whether they’re going directly into the workforce, pursuing a trade, or starting college or university, they’re all making decisions about their futures.
As farmers, encouraging the next generation to choose a career in the agriculture industry is important. Canadian farmers are getting older – the average age is 56 – but our sector has long dealt with an ongoing struggle to attract enough workers to fill the various positions available throughout the industry.
Research has estimated the job shortage in agriculture to grow to 123,000 people by 2030 as the sector both continues to grow and older workers retire, whether from the farm or other positions in the industry.
Pursuing a career in agriculture offers a wide range of fascinating and fulfilling opportunities. The job offerings are broad, from traditional on-farm careers working with livestock or growing crops to research, equipment maintenance, quality control, food safety, construction, transportation, processing, product development, marketing, sales and beyond.
And there are emerging fields, too, that play increasingly important roles on the modern farm, like robotics, automation and artificial intelligence, to name just a few.
At the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), we believe strongly in supporting young people who wish to work in the agriculture sector.
We have a province-wide bursary program that provides three winners with $2,000 to support their post-secondary education in agriculture. Applicants are judged based on demonstrated leadership skills, involvement in the community, and varied accomplishments in both school and the agriculture industry.
Last year, the program was expanded to also provide support to someone completing an apprenticeship and an individual completing a post-graduate or leadership development program. This was a terrific enhancement – agriculture, for example, needs skilled tradespeople as much or more than any other sector of the economy.
As our industry evolves, barns get bigger and automation and technology become more widely used, the need for skilled tradespeople with an understanding of the unique needs of the agriculture industry will only continue to grow.
What I personally like about the program expansion is that it now also supports continuing education and personal growth opportunities for those of us in the industry who are a little further in our careers and are looking for new ways to learn and grow. For example, I just recently graduated from the Advanced Agricultural Leadership Program, which is an executive-style development program for leaders – and potential leaders – in the Ontario agriculture sector.
Many of the OFA’s county and regional federations also offer substantial scholarships and bursaries that can help ease the financial burden of pursuing higher education. Post-secondary education of any kind is expensive, so we’re pleased to be able to help offset those costs by providing financial assistance for things like tuition, textbooks, and other educational expenses.
From my perspective, it’s a win-win. I farm with my family in Oxford County and the local federations in my region are among those who are supporting the next generation with bursaries and scholarships. If we can encourage young people to pursue a fulfilling career in agriculture, no matter what direction they take, that’s positive for our sector.
And it’s not just OFA or the local federations that support young people with scholarships and bursaries.
A wide range of provincial and national businesses, organizations, and industry stakeholders as well as agricultural and commodity groups offer funding opportunities. The deadlines vary, but OFA has compiled a detailed list of available awards on its website that students can consult for more information.
It’s an opportunity not to be missed for students, whether they’re returning to school in the fall, starting into post-secondary education for the first time, or contemplating returning to the classroom for a continuing education opportunity.
For more information, contact:
Ontario Federation of Agriculture