Ni­a­gara farms chal­lenged to find work­ers

The Welland Tribune - - Local - ALLAN BENNER

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.

ALLAN BENNER THE ST. CATHARINES STAN­DARD

Adam Dur­rant, cen­tre, dis­cusses a Ni­a­gara Work­force Plan­ning Board re­port on the re­gion's agri­cul­tural in­dus­try, with Thalia Sem­plo­nius, left, and Sean Cal­cott.

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