The agri-food industry needs more highly qualified people, and the University of Guelph’s Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) is looking for ways to help meet the demand.
Producing more graduates is both a challenge and tremendous opportunity, says OAC dean Dr. Rene Van Acker. A study released five years ago indicated that there were three jobs for every one OAC Bachelor of Science graduate, and that assessed only employment opportunities in Ontario, says Van Acker.
Since then, the gap between the supply and demand for OAC grads has actually increased, says Van Acker, who notes that the university sits in the heart of an ever-growing agri-food industry that employs more than 780,000 people in the province. “Our enrolments continue to grow, but so does the sector and our enrolments don’t meet anywhere near the demand.”
Van Acker explains that the demand gap exists across the entire sector, both on the food side as well as primary agricultural production. “There is no area in agriculture and food that does not have high demand for highly skilled people,” he says.
Van Acker says one of the biggest challenges OAC faces is getting non-traditional students to recognize the opportunities in agriculture and food. OAC continues to be an education destination of choice for many young people with roots in the agriculture industry, but there are simply not enough. That means OAC must also focus their recruitment on non-traditional urban areas to attract students.
In this interview, Van Acker talks about OAC’s current agri-food industry consultations designed to assess the needs of the sector. He explains that the process is designed to engage the industry and help OAC develop the skilled young people required. The resulting research will be used to help drive recruitment, reshape current programs where required, and help build future OAC offerings such as a new food industry management program slated to launch in fall 2018.