Agriculture has highest job vacancy rate in nation for roles beyond manual labour
Experts wanted, from veterinarians to soil management staff as openings rise
There's a global shortage of agricultural workers, from manual labour roles to science and engineering-focused agricultural tech work, and Canada is no different.
Everything from agronomists, or experts in soil management and crop production, to veterinarians are needed in Canada and it's a long-standing need. PRECOVID-19 studies showed that primary agriculture experienced a labour shortage of 63,000 positions in 2018, giving it the highest job vacancy rate of any Canadian industry at 5.4 per cent. The shortage has been predicted to increase to 123,000 by 2029.
Meanwhile, a recent Information and Communications Technology Council report suggests that agri-food and food-tech sector jobs are projected to grow to 683,000 by 2025 from 634,000 currently, because there's a rising demand for food from an ever-increasing global population.
WHAT'S IT PAY?
Farming encompasses a large variety of roles, including ones with low or no entry requirements and those that require advanced degrees. Based on 2,800 salaries listed, Indeed Canada pegs the average salary for a farm worker as $15.25 an hour, which works out to $31,720 a year. An agronomist can expect to make an annual average of $59,996 while agricultural engineers will earn $100,000.
WHO'S IT FOR?
A comprehensive list of roles, their requirements and prerequisites in primary agriculture can be found on the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council's website. It breaks down the labourer, manager and owner hierarchy in various subsectors, including aquaculture, poultry and eggs, cattle, field fruit and vegetables, as well as roles in greenhouses and nurseries.
Beyond that, Jennifer Wright, the council's acting executive director, said the industry has been increasingly reaching out to those in non-agricultural educational and career streams.
“We're hoping to connect them with work experience and experiential learning opportunities, so that they can see where their technology degree or their environmental science degree or their software engineering degree could really be put to good use within the agriculture industry,” she said.
Wright noted the industry needs to adapt both its skills base and its workers to face technological innovations such as automation and artificial intelligence. One particularly burgeoning area is indoor farming, which she said has huge potential, both in terms of cleantech and because there's a need to address food security concerns.
“With the increased innovation that's being shown in this space, there is much more opportunity for food to be growing,” she said.
“Fresh produce could be available locally from indoor farming spaces in the North, which hasn't been something that's been available, really ever on a consistent basis.”
Wright said soft skills are also something she's been hearing the industry needs more of, including communications, problem solving and working well within a team. Given the breadth of the industry, she highlighted the space it gives workers to move around based on their transferable skills and career goals, particularly within larger companies on the agribusiness side.
At the moment, the gender divide in farming is much like many other industries: disproportionately male. Across the country, men account for 28.7 per cent of all farm operators. However, according to the 2016 census, British Columbia had the highest proportion of female farm operators at 38 per cent, followed by Alberta at 31 per cent. Ontario is not far behind at 29.7 per cent.
But there's some welcome news for young adults interested in farming.
In May, Agriculture and Agrifood Minister Marie-claude Bibeau announced up to $21.4 million to enhance the Youth Employment and Skills Program that pays up to 50 per cent of wages for those between the ages of 15 and 30, which could create up to 2,000 jobs. The program will also pay as much as 80 per cent of the wages for Indigenous applicants and youth facing barriers.
WHERE ARE THE JOBS?
Well, they're everywhere. We all need food.
More specifically, in terms of looming estimated labour shortages, Ontario, Quebec and Alberta are the most needy in that order. Wright also singles out the Interior of British Columbia, Abbotsford, B.C., Napa Valley in Nova Scotia, the Eastern Townships in Quebec and southwestern Ontario as areas that need help.
And the work, as mentioned, is not all outside. Quebec has earmarked $91 million to double the volume of its indoor production of fruit and vegetables and Ottawa is involved in a pilot project for a vertical farm in Nunavut.