Niagara farms challenged to find workers
With nearly 30 per cent of agriculture industry employers say workers lack technical skills and more than 75 per cent lack motivation, Niagara Workforce Planning Board researchers say there is room for improvement in the industry.
“We need to dig into the access to skilled labour and perceptions of skilled labour,” said NWPB operations and research manager Adam Durrant, following Tuesday’s release of a report focusing on Niagara’s agricultural sector and related businesses.
“Those are areas where we can effect the most change, but we need to know why that perception is.”
He said the report provides an opportunity to work with Employment Ontario, post-secondary institutions and high schools to find long-term solutions to that problem.
But first, Durrant said, the priority is to identify “where those skills are coming up short, and then getting that information into the hands of our partners who are in the best position to affect change on that.”
The need for a better skilled workforce is one of several issues identified through the study that was developed through surveys completed by 78 industry participants who collectively hired 574 workers last year.
About 30 per cent of employers surveyed described hiring new workers extremely difficult, while 75.7 per cent identified a lack of motivation among common challenges they face.
Durrant said the research — conducted with assistance from three Brock University assistants — will lead to several followup studies into the relationship between wages paid to farm workers and the challenges filling those jobs.
He said the organization is reaching out to Statistics Canada to get payroll data related to occupation and industry of employment.
“That’s a followup product that we’re going to be working on to try to build that narrative using data that already exists, rather than going directly to employers with this.”
However, he said “higher wages tend to resolve a lot of problems outright.”
“If we were speculating entirely on this, probably we could expect to see a relationship there.”
While many of Niagara’s agriculture producers bring in foreign workers to tend to crops, Durrant said migrant workers were included among the people hired by study participants last year — although more research needs to be done specifically on that topic.
“Local employers were turning to foreign workers to fill the gaps where they couldn’t get locally sourced employees. That’s reflected in the challenges in hiring that we saw on the list … We expected that,” he said.
Adam Durrant, centre, discusses a Niagara Workforce Planning Board report on the region's agricultural industry, with Thalia Semplonius, left, and Sean Calcott.