By Jennifer Doelman, Director, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Labour has been a longstanding critical issue impacting the agriculture and food value chain — including planting, production, quality control, processing, distribution and research. It is not only difficult to attract, but also to retain employees in the various sectors of agriculture. The Feeding Your Future initiative was developed with the primary objective of addressing chronic labour shortages. Funding from both the Ontario government and Canadian government through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP) created the opportunity to introduce more than just a labour initiative, but a long-term strategy to live beyond the immediate impacts of COVID-19.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) appreciates the government support to empower the agricultural community to address an ongoing challenge that has hindered growth of the sector. Job vacancies have cost farmers an estimated total of $1.5 billion. As an essential industry and significant economic contributor, the agri-food sector is part of the solution for economic recovery in this province. Filling vacant roles along the food value chain will create investment opportunities, job growth and help to secure a sustainable food production system. Feeding Your Future has built momentum over the past year, connecting employees with employers, and helping to address immediate labour gaps. Services have uniquely been tailored to serve Ontario farmers in a virtual format due to the lack of personal interactions occurring over the last 18 months.
This initiative has been an excellent opportunity to collaborate and build relationships with stakeholders in the industry and welcome diverse backgrounds and skillsets. As the largest general farm organization in the province, OFA provides a vehicle to connect our members and job seekers, but we cannot succeed independently. The project has opened opportunities for further collaboration, allowing OFA to pull groups and individuals together to expand beyond our network.
Offering regional and province-wide virtual career fairs with AgCareers.com and CareersInFood.com has provided the opportunity for employers to connect directly with job seekers despite the barrier of no in-person job fairs. Webinars, hosted by AgCareers.com, have covered relevant topics for employers to learn strategies to implement on their farm during and after the hiring process. Crafting job descriptions, enhancing workplace culture and diversifying the workplace are a few of the topics that have provided an opportunity for employers to learn from experts and engage in Q & A sessions to follow.
It’s no secret that as farmers, we prefer to focus our energy on growing our crops or raising our livestock, rather than trying to teach ourselves how to become a human resources department. It is important to recognize however, that workplace culture is everything when it comes to retaining employees on the farm. These webinars provide the tips and strategies for the hiring process as well as how to improve communication and enhance workplace culture – which means that we can use these tools and then get back to doing what we love.
For hiring on our farm this year, we utilized the job matching concierge service of this project. We were able to work with an AgCareers.com staff member who helped us create a job description for the vacant position we were looking to fill and connected us with applicants. It was a very easy, hands-off process that was also free. This was a great low-risk opportunity for us to try this service because we didn’t need to budget for a job ad that we weren’t sure would be filled. Ontario farmers are receiving the benefit of personalized services for hiring in agriculture which helps fill a short-term void.
While this initiative has had a short-term focus, it aims to have a long-term vision. Educational resources have been established including the Agriculture Worker Safety and Awareness Certificate, developed with the University of Guelph Ridgetown Campus. This certificate program addresses both challenges of labour attraction and retention. As an introductory program, it welcomes those who may have limited to no knowledge in the agriculture field and provides basic farm awareness to build confidence. This confidence becomes part of the retention strategy as this technical knowledge is applied to an agriculture workplace. To grow exposure of the various education and career opportunities in agriculture, a new certificate program is currently being developed with an accredited post-secondary institution.
OFA appreciates that the Canadian and Ontario government have responded to this long-standing challenge, and we hope to gain this continued support in the future. Collaboration welcomes positive change, and it is important to provide our members with resources that offer a long-term gain. With a lack of sufficient labour, burnout and exhaustion can happen easily, which further emphasizes the need for a long-term strategy to ensure the agri-food value chain remains strong, reliable and profitable.
For more information, contact:
Director of Communications and Stakeholder Relations
Ontario Federation of Agriculture
519-821-8883 ext. 218